Yellow Wife

Written by Sadeqa Johnson
Review by Elisabeth Lenckos

Virginia, 1850. Beautiful and educated, enslaved Pheby Delores Brown looks forward to the day she turns eighteen, when she has been promised her freedom. The illegitimate daughter of the local medicine woman and the white owner of the Bell Plantation, which is her home, Pheby is treated cruelly by his wife. Soon after her father suffers an accident and her mother dies, the woman exiles Pheby, and she is offered up for sale. About to be auctioned to the highest bidder, she is claimed by ‘the Jailer,’ but although the man saves her from the ultimate humiliation, his supposed chivalry turns out to be nothing more than a canny disguise. For he is the manager of Devil’s Acre, the infamous jail where enslaved people’s spirits are broken in order to force them to submit to the abuse meted out to them by their potential owners. After the Jailer makes Pheby his partner in crime, and she bears him several children, she realizes that she is, despite the hardships she has endured, a doting mother, willing to sacrifice what it takes to keep her progeny safe. However, when the love of her life returns, Pheby’s character is tested as never before.

Fast-paced, tense, and atmospheric, The Yellow Wife is impossible to put down. Since the slavers’ menace is relentless, and the scale of the slaves’ suffering immeasurable—beatings, maiming, hunger, thirst, and abasement are the order of the day—the reader keeps worrying about Pheby’s fate. But we needn’t fear, since she proves indomitable—a bright, strong, resourceful woman, who persists in her struggle for survival and empathy in a society rotten with the disease of slavery. Moved by her quest for love and mercy in a world seems to have abandoned these values, we root for Pheby, confident she will prevail. Highly recommended.