Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: The Wedding Gift

Summary: When prestigious plantation owner Cornelius Allen gives his daughter Clarissa’s hand in marriage, she takes with her a gift: Sarah—her slave and her half-sister. Raised by an educated mother, Clarissa is not a proper southern belle she appears to be with ambitions of loving who she chooses and Sarah equally hides behind the façade of being a docile house slave as she plots to escape. Both women bring these tumultuous secrets and desires with them to their new home, igniting events that spiral into a tale beyond what you ever imagined possible and it will leave you enraptured until the very end. 

Told through alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius’ wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait that will leave readers breathless. -- St. Martin's Press

At this year's BEA, I attended a "speed-dating" type of event for book clubs. Basically, representatives from major publishing houses presented their top picks for book clubs. As a book lover (and especially a lover of all things book club-related), I could barely contain myself with so many wonderful sounding books. I swear my list of "must-reads" grew by at least twenty books that day.

One of the books that the Macmillan rep discussed was THE WEDDING GIFT by Marlen Suyapa Bodden. This slave narrative was originally self-published and even landed on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller List. I was happy to see that a major publishing house decided to re-release the book in the hopes that it would be attractive to more readers.

THE WEDDING GIFT tells the story of a young girl Clarissa and her slave Sarah-- who just happen to be half-sisters. It is told in alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora, the plantation owner's wife and mother of Clarissa. Despite coming from entirely different backgrounds, Clarissa and Sarah were childhood friends and even studied together.

When Clarissa leaves home to marry, her father gives her Sarah as a wedding gift. As these two women move to their new home, they discover that the secrets in their past remain with them and have a major effect on both of their lives.

I not sure I loved THE WEDDING GIFT, but overall, I'd say that I enjoyed it. I liked the setting of the story, but I'm always drawn to books that take place around the Civil War and feature life on Southern plantations. I thought the author did an outstanding job of bringing not only this time period, but also the reality of slavery, to life for the reader.

I most definitely appreciated the author's writing abilities as well as the way she decided to tell this story. I liked getting both Sarah and Theodora's insight into the story, and I felt as if Ms. Bodden did a good job in capturing their individual voices. In addition, I thought the authors created a compelling story with a powerful ending. While I did begin to suspect something was amiss, I honestly was caught off guard with the surprise ending... which is a good thing.

Furthermore, I really liked how the author explored the complex relationship between slaves and their owners. She did a remarkable job of showing the love/hate aspects of this type of relationship as well as the passions that individuals possess. In addition, I liked how she showed just how oppressed women in this time were regardless of whether they were white or black. As a result, I do think THE WEDDING GIFT would make an interesting book to discuss.

I was a little disappointed that I wasn't able to find a discussion guide for THE WEDDING GIFT. I don't think it's necessary to have one to fully discuss this novel, but I think it might be more attractive to many book clubs if there was one available. Some of the themes you might want to further explore include racism, slavery, the role of women, love, marriage, secrets, greed, and violence.

If you enjoy books about slavery and complex relationships, then I recommend checking out THE WEDDING GIFT.

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a good book for book clubs - my book club would probably love it but I'm just not drawn to that time period for some reason.

Sandy Nawrot said...

It's too bad this one didn't blow you away. Those master/slave relationships combined with a female friendship could have been a home run.

KRS said...

The complexity of relationships and slave trade in a book are interesting.