cover image The Yellow Wife

The Yellow Wife

Sadeqa Johnson. 37 Ink, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982149-10-9

Johnson’s rich latest (after And Then There Was Me) follows a mixed-race young woman, enslaved by her father, through a series of betrayals and abuses. Pheby Brown has been promised her emancipation at 18 by her father, Jacob Bell, the white owner of a plantation in Charles City, Va. Pheby chooses to remain at the Bell plantation because of Jacob’s promise, even after her lover, Essex, escapes to the north in 1850, when she is 17. After a carriage accident kills Pheby’s mother and injures Jacob, Pheby is at the mercy of Jacob’s vindictive, mean-spirited wife, Delphina, who sells Pheby to jailer Rubin Lapier. At the jail, Pheby gives birth to Essex’s son, Monroe, and afterwards Rubin coerces Pheby to sleep with him in exchange for keeping Monroe. As the years pass, Pheby bears four of Rubin’s daughters. When Essex is captured and ends up at the jail in 1857, Pheby plots to get him and Monroe to freedom. While some scenes feel a bit melodramatic, the author brilliantly depicts Pheby’s maternal drive to create a better life for all of her children despite a series of brutally difficult compromises. Despite the occasional creaky plot turns, Johnson achieves a powerful, unflinching account of determination in the face of oppression. [em]Agents: Cherise Fisher and Wendy Sherman, Wendy Sherman Asso. (Jan.) [/em]