Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Yellow Wife

Finished March 27
Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

This historical novel was inspired by and based on real historical characters, which I love. There are also some real historical figures who appear in the story. The author had recently moved to Richmond, Virginia when she saw a plaque about the couple who inspired this story and dug into their history to learn more.
The main character of this novel and the one we see through the experience of is Pheby Delores Brown. She was born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia and raised unusually. The plantation owner's sister schooled her in everything from reading, math, and geography to piano, and even on one occasion took her out shopping as if she were not a slave. Pheby lived with her mother Ruth in a room in the Loom House and both worked as seamstresses and weavers for the plantation, doing both fine work and clothing for the other slaves. When the master's sister died and the master married, she did not continue this treatment, and took against the girl. 
As the book opens, Pheby has recently been moved to serve the master's wife when her maid that she brought with her died of fever. The master has made this choice, not his wife. Pheby is looking forward to her eighteenth birthday as she has been promised freedom then. 
But things conspire against this fate, and her hope of eventually marrying her fellow slave Essex Henry, who has been allowed to hire himself out to save money to buy his freedom. Instead, she is unexpectedly shipped to Virginia to be punished and sold at an infamous jail, nicknamed Devil's Half Acre. There she is taken by the jailor into his household and given both kindnesses and ill treatment by him as she figures out what she must do to survive in this hostile new world. Living right in the heart of the jail, she witnesses atrocities daily and is limited in what she can do to make a difference in the lives that pass through. 
I found this book very interesting, showing an aspect of the system of slavery that I hadn't seen before. The character of Pheby was interesting, but so were many of the secondary characters that emerged. I appreciated the author's note explaining her inspiration and research as well to place this work in context. 


  1. This sounds interesting, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. This sounds like an interesting book that I would like to read.

    Thanks for the review.

    1. It was a viewpoint different from other books I've read of this period of history.

    2. That's what I thought and that's always something we're looking for, right? So, thanks again.