by Julie HaleFebruary 2011
Best bets for book clubs
THE LURE OF FREEDOM
In her electrifying debut novel, Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez tells the unforgettable story of four slave women who serve as mistresses to their masters. In Ohio during the 1850s, Mawu, Lizzie, Sweet and Reenie meet while vacationing with their owners at a resort, where they see a true wonder—free blacks—and hear gossip about abolition. With the exception of Lizzie, who loves her master, the women soon dream of being free. The odds against them are incredible. Reenie is owned by her brutal half-brother, who shares her with the manager of the resort. Courageous Mawu also suffers at the hand of a pitiless master. Sweet, meanwhile, is expecting a baby with her owner. As the women develop plans to escape, they’re aided by freed slaves and a kind Quaker woman. Yet leaving is more difficult than they ever imagined. Based on factual research, this remarkable novel skillfully dramatizes a dark chapter in American history. Writing with lyrical grace and a gift for plot development, Perkins-Valdez has produced an inspiring portrait of four brave women and the risks they take to change their lives.
RUSSIA ON MY MIND
A Mountain of Crumbs, the smart, funny memoir from Russian writer Elena Gorokhova, offers a revealing look at life in 1960s Leningrad during Brezhnev’s oppressive tenure. As a teenager, Gorokhova finds it hard to obey the strict political codes that shape every aspect of her life, but her compliant, worrisome mother plays by the rules and encourages her to do the same. Despite the state’s intrusiveness, she experiences the usual teenage agitations, including concerns about dating, work and the future, which she recounts with appealing humor. Planning early on to escape from her homeland, Gorokhova is forced to come to terms with the Soviet Union’s dark past as she envisions a future for herself in the West. Marriage to an American provides a ticket out, and she eventually settles in New Jersey. Recounting events in a style that’s frank and intimate, Gorokhova’s story of maintaining her personal identity in the face of an invasive government makes for fascinating reading.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Inspired by the work of Jane Austen, The Three Weissmanns of Westport focuses on three women in different phases of life who are struggling with changes in career and love. Betty Weissmann’s world is turned upside down when, after almost 50 years of marriage, her husband takes up with another woman. At the age of 75, she leaves behind her well-to-do Manhattan existence and moves into an old beach house in Westport, Connecticut. Betty is soon joined by her daughters: Miranda, a literary agent embroiled in legal troubles, and Annie, a debt-ridden librarian. In Westport, a place filled with fresh faces and opportunities, the trio’s prospects brighten. Miranda falls for a young actor, while Annie connects unexpectedly with the brother of a family friend. A tale of old-fashioned romance set against a contemporary backdrop, Cathleen Schine’s latest is a true page-turner. Richly plotted and filled with emotion and heart, it’s a delightful tribute to Austen.
A reading group guide is available.