Five-Star Read: Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson
I recently wrote about five reasons I love reading historical fiction, and Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson is an excellent example of why I love this genre.
About Yellow Wife
Yellow Wife is the story of Pheby Delores Brown, born on Bell Plantation in Virginia. She was favored by the owner of the plantation, who is her biological father, and his sister. Her mother, Ruth, protects Pheby from as many of the horrors of slavery as she can. However, when tragedy strikes, Pheby is taken from the plantation and loses all whom she loves, including her beloved Essex Henry.
Pheby is transferred to Lapier Jail, also known as Devil’s Half-Acre, where she quickly sees and experiences the brutality of the enslaved who are held at the jail, whether they are to be auctioned to new owners, punished for perceived wrongdoings, or forced into work of many nightmares. The owner of Lapier Jail takes her as his own, and Pheby must decides what sacrifices she must make as she lives under his rule.
I don’t have the adjectives for a review that encapsulate my feelings for Yellow Wife, but here are a few of the reasons I loved it and firmly believe it is a book to be recognized by all.
Revealing Real History in Yellow Wife
Yellow Wife is an example of what U.S. schools have not taught in history classes. Like most products of this education system, I studied the Civil War, but I’m ashamed to acknowledge that slavery wasn’t covered in detail. While it’s been several decades since I was a public school student, I should know more now. Learning about the jails that slaves were sent to, like Devil’s Half-Acre, was eye-opening, and now I am determined to learn more about what my teachers never discussed, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that my children learn the entire history.
Sadeqa Johnson and Research for Yellow Wife
Alongside learning about history by reading this novel, I greatly appreciated the research in Yellow Wife. Ms. Johnson explains how she was inspired to write the book, and she outlines all of the research she conducted. This is really important because it reveals a part of history that needs to be shared in a correct, authentic way. Reading her explanation made the story of Pheby and her time at Lapier Jail even more powerful, even though she is a fictional character.
A Vivid, Brutal World
Ms. Johnson’s book took me into a vivid, but horrifying, world with a well-researched, well-told story about Pheby and how she and others experienced deep pain and injustice in Lapier Jail. This was a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but I know that the story was important for me to read. I encourage everyone to do the same because of the quality of Ms. Johnson’s writing and storytelling, but most importantly because it demands attention to a part of history that may not have been shared otherwise.
A Family Saga — Pheby’s Sacrifices
The spirit of family is integral to Yellow Wife, as we meet Pheby’s mother, Ruth, and her children. I felt the power of these familial connections, as well as the impact of found family. Pheby’s relationships with the other slaves at Bell Plantation and in Lapier Jail showed how connections to others was key to Pheby’s survival as she made extreme sacrifices to help her family and loved ones.
Yellow Wife is an excellent novel, one that I’m glad to have read. I hope you will read it, too!