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The Wedding Gift

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 In 1852, when prestigious Alabama 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 the proper Southern belle she appears to be, with ambitions of loving whom she chooses. 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

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Overview

 In 1852, when prestigious Alabama 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 the proper Southern belle she appears to be, with ambitions of loving whom she chooses. 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. Told through the alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius' wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait of slavery and the 19th Century South that will leave readers breathless.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/19/2013
In this stunning debut, Marlen Suyapa Bodden effortlessly transports the reader to 1852 Alabama, where slavery and racism may rule the day, but everything isn't as black and white as it may seem. Sixteen-year-old Sarah Campbell is a housemaid to her half-sister Clarissa. Both daughters of plantation owner Mr. Allen, they secretly reject the roles they are expected to play. Sarah yearns for the day when she can escape slavery, while Clarissa is disinterested in her father's wishes for her to marry young and become mistress of her own plantation. But then Clarissa unexpectedly becomes pregnant before she's wed—changing the trajectory of both girls' lives. Bodden weaves a page-turning tangled web of misogyny, greed, scandal and violence in this powerful story about races colliding against the backdrop of America's darkest era. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"In this stunning debut, Marlen Suyapa Bodden effortlessly transports the reader to 1852 Alabama, where slavery and racism may rule the day, but everything isn't as black and white as it may seem...Bodden weaves a page-turning tangled web of misogyny, greed, scandal and violence in this powerful story about races colliding against the backdrop of America's darkest era."  —PW Starred Review

"Once you read The Wedding Gift, you'll learn why the based-on-true-events story of biracial slave Sarah Campbell, her White sister Clarissa Allen and her slavemaster daddy Cornelius Allen is sure to become 2013's sleeper hit...the beauty of  this novel is the way it expands the typical slave narrative by adding gripping innuendo, mystery, surprise, shrewd insight and murder centered on people - White, Black, male and female - who will fight to the death to escape their circumstances." — Ebony Magazine

“If I were you, I wouldn’t make any plans for the rest of the day.  You have in your hands a story of the tangled motives and self-destructive passions when whites and blacks became this close during the time of slavery—all told at a pell mell pace.”—Tom Wolfe, New York Times bestselling and Award-winning author of Back to Blood

“Bodden wraps some of the most complex issues facing the world today, slavery, racism, misogyny, and violence in an unflinching tall tale about an American family that is black and white. This compelling and fierce historical novel, where the slave master gives his white daughter his black daughter as a wedding gift, is set in the big house of a wealthy plantation before the Civil War and is based on a court case from the 1840s in Talladega, Alabama.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“Fascinating, intriguing—a great story!” —Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House

“The WEDDING GIFT is powerful and absorbing.  Ms. Bodden’s story-telling skills are on fine display in this intricately-plotted novel as she unflinchingly transports the reader to the most tragic, brutal time in the country’s past.  The characters are exceptionally well-rendered; the sense of who they are lingers beyond the last page.  The author astutely captures the complexities of the relationships—especially between the enslaved black women and the oppressed white women.  Also masterfully captured here is the boundless quest to live fully free.” —Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Tumbling

"The strength of the novel is its slave narrative tone and its ability to demonstrate the pain of being owned by  another human being. Many have heard of slavery; few know this story. It's too important to overlook." 

—Daniel Black, author of Twelve Gates to the City

 

"If your book club enjoyed The Help or Calling Me Home, these books might make wonderful selections." —She Reads Round Up includes The Wedding Gift

Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A debut novel about slaves and masters, mistresses and wives, set in antebellum Alabama. Bodden's debut features two narrators: Sarah Campbell, a young mulatto slave, and Theodora, wife of Cornelius Allen, owner of Allen Estates, a large cotton plantation worked by hundreds of slaves. Sarah is Allen's daughter by his longtime slave mistress, Emmeline. Theodora, a gentlewoman, is at first in love with her new husband, but after the birth of their children (the youngest, Clarissa, is born shortly after Sarah), a combination of his alcoholism, increasingly violent behavior and infidelity quickly sours their marriage, and she takes refuge in the arts and her secret correspondence with a handsome poet. When Allen marries Clarissa off to Cromwell, a brutal plantation owner who can advance Allen's business interests (as a sub rosa investor in the now-illegal slave ships), the stage is set for melodrama. Clarissa has become pregnant by a rival suitor, and after a hurried wedding, Cromwell agrees, in return for financial concessions, to acknowledge the child as his. He changes his mind when he realizes, at Clarissa's "premature" birthing of a full-term son, that he cannot possibly be the father, and he sends Clarissa back home in disgrace. Meanwhile, Sarah, whom Cromwell seeks to coerce into concubinage as Allen did her mother, plots her escape. Thanks to Theodora's tutoring, she learned to read and write and is an excellent forger of slave passes. Upon Clarissa's return to Allen Estates, her enraged father takes away her child, and she dies of childbed fever shortly thereafter, whereupon Allen, knowing his good name is tarnished all over the South, drinks himself to death. As Theodora seeks her missing grandson, Cromwell threatens to sue and ruin the entire family. Sarah, in men's disguise, is making her way inexorably toward the port of Mobile, dodging slave catchers at every turn. Plodding prose, leaden dialogue and a gratuitous trick ending undermine what is otherwise a fraught and entertaining story enhanced with convincing period detail.
Library Journal
A lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in New York, Bodden initially sold thousands of copies of this self-published novel online; she's been blurbed by Tom Wolfe and Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the antebellum South, tragedy results after Cornelius Allen gives his newly married daughter Clarissa the slave girl Sarah, Allen's daughter by his house slave and hence Clarissa's sister.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250026385
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 164,804
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

MARLEN SUYAPA BODDEN is a lawyer at The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest law firm for the poor, in New York City. She drew on her knowledge of modern and historical slavery, human trafficking, and human rights abuses to write The Wedding Gift, her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

ONE

 

SARAH CAMPBELL

This chronicle commences with the monarchs of my heart: my mother, the woman who gave me light, and my sister, to whom I clung in dire times. Both were beautiful, with delicate features and dark skin. I, however, am big-boned and, as the Alabama newspapers described me, yellowish. Except for her yellow hair and blue eyes, I look more like my other sister, to whom I was given when she married, Clarissa Allen, the daughter of the master of the plantation and his wife, Theodora. Like Clarissa, and the man who fathered us, I am tall, have dimples, a pointy nose, and meager lips. I do not know precisely how old I was when I realized that I was a slave, but I think that I was six, the year I began helping with cooking, cleaning, and all that we had to do in the Allen household.

One morning, when we were still sleeping, someone knocked on the door of our cabin. My mother rose and wrapped herself in a shawl, telling us to do the same and to sit at the table. When she opened the door, two men were standing outside, holding lanterns and guns. I trembled, and Belle firmly held my hand.

Why they here, Mama?

Shush, baby. Dont say nothing.

Your key, one man said.

Yes, sir, my mother said.

My eyes were sensitive to the light from their lanterns. I heard them walk everywhere, near the beds, cabinets, and in the kitchen area. One of the men had a persistent cough. Their rancid smell permeated the cabin. The lock clicked and the lid creaked when they opened the chest where my mother kept some of the money that she earned from trading baked goods, quilts, and dried cooking herbs in town.

When they were gone, my mother sat at the table and put her arm around me. She was shaking.

Why those men come here, Mama?

Mr. Allen tell them to.

But why, Mama, why?

Stop asking questions, Sarah. He tell them to and nobody got to tell us why or nothing else.

One afternoon, I filled two pails at the well behind the kitchen. Two boys, about my age, were there playing with clay marbles, when an overseer approached.

What you little niggers doing?

They did not answer him.

You hear me, you black bastards?

The boys continued to ignore him.

You fucking niggers say something when I talk to you.

He used his whip to strike one boy in the arm and the other on the leg and then kicked each one, knocking him to the ground, and the boys and I screamed. I dropped my buckets, spilling water. I heard people running and my mothers voice rising above the clamor saying that she was coming to me.

She told someone to take the boys to our cabin. She kissed me and carried me home, but when she tried to put me on our bed, I grasped the sleeve of her dress.

Sarah, baby, you going to be all right. Stay here. Let me go look after the children.

The boys were crying.

Your mamas going to be here soon. Now let me see how bad you is hurt, she said to them. Im going to clean and put something on your cuts so they can heal. Its going to sting a bit, but you all is big boys and I know you going to be strong.

When the boys mother arrived, I recognized her voice. She was one of the washerwomen for Allen Hall.

Miss Emmeline, thank you for looking after my boys. Thank God you was there and that man didnt do no worse to them.

Youre welcome, but thats what we got to do. We got to look after each others children, and I know you do the same for my girls. You let me know if they aint better soon.

The washerwoman took her boys home. I felt calmer by that time, but my sight was blurred. My mother said that I should stay in bed and rest.

Sarah, I got to get back to the kitchen so I can finish making supper. Let me wash you up first. All right, baby?

No, Mama. Dont leave me here by myself. What if that man is out there? And why he hit those boys?

Mr. Allen aint going to like it when he hear what he did. But Sarah, listen, you always got to do what the overseers tell you. You got to obey them the same way we obey Mr. and Mrs. Allen. You understand me?

Yes, maam. But Im scared of that man. What if he come back?

Im going to be looking out for you, baby, and aint letting you go no place by yourself until you is older. Baby, you know I can see our cabin from the kitchen, and Ill watch to make sure nobody come inside. And Belle and me going to come here to see you every so often.

That year, I began listening to the pastor who had a service in the kitchen for the Hall slaves and their families on Sunday mornings. We did not attend church with the Allens in town because we had to prepare dinner. The field hands and tradespeople had their own house of worship on the plantation. After his sermon, the preacher spoke to us about the slave laws and our activities off the plantation.

One afternoon in the wintertime, after the Allens and their guests had their dinner, my mother took Belle and me into town to purchase goods for the Hall. An overseer met us at the gate before we left and gave the wagon driver a traveling pass.

As I had noticed when we were walking in town on prior occasions, men stopped to stare at my mother. She did not pause and looked straight ahead. That day, we went to different shops to retrieve items that the merchants had ordered from abroad for the Allens and dried cooking herbs from the Indies for my mother. At six oclock, the driver met us at the last shop to help us with the packages.

Johnny, I got something else to do. Please wait for us here.

Johnny gave my mother a lantern, and as we were walking toward a side road, I heard people yelling and saw them running to the square in the center of town. My mother held my hand and steered us back to the wagon. I heard someone scream, and she told me to move faster.

Mister, please, let us go. We wasnt doing nothing wrong. We was just talking. Please dont whip us, one man said.

Shut your mouths and take your turns on the post. You keep arguing, and you going to get more lashes.

Please, mister, dont. I wont do it again. We was just talking.

I hear one more thing from any of you, and youre each getting the full thirty lashes.

Mama

Sarah, stop. Not one word. Ill tell you what thats about later. Now we just got to get out of here.

We were silent all the way to Allen Estates. When we arrived at our cabin, my mother told me that the people I saw about to be whipped in town were being punished because they had done something that the preacher warned us about on Sundays.

Sarah, some people in town was talking in a group. Im only telling you this so you know not to do the same thing when youre older. If the patrollers see a group of slaves without a overseer to watch them, the patrollers can whip every one of them.

Around this time, I observed other aspects of my life and the people at Allen Hall that troubled my young head. Clarissa, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Allen, had a sixth year birthday celebration that began on a Thursday and ended Sunday night. There were about thirty guests, including her paternal family from Montgomery and Macon counties and neighboring planters and their families. My mother cooked all the meals and made Clarissas cake.

When we were alone, I asked my mother about my birthday.

You remember when I made that cake for you a little while back, and we and the others had it after supper in the kitchen, dont you?

But you didnt sing to me, and you didnt say it was my birthday.

I know, baby, but it was. Mr. Allen said he wrote it down in his book where he write all the babies birthdays.

When is my birthday?

Mr. Allen said its June 25. But you keep that just between us, all right, baby? And dont tell the other children. Not everybody know their birthdays. I know mines and Belles because Mr. Allens father wrote them down and Mr. Allen told me.

When the Allen relatives visited the plantation, I was not Clarissas playmate, as I was when no one else was around, but her maid; and when she spoke to me, it was to give me orders. During one of these visits, while we were in our cabin one night and I was sitting on my mothers lap, I asked her about her family, who they were and where they might be.

Baby, it aint something I like to talk about, no, but I know everybody want to know where they come from. Only God know where all my kin is, if they is living or is not. They get sold, Mommy tell me, and she say its because our people was the kind that was always making trouble for the overseers and trying to run away, and Master Allens father sell them off, a long time ago. Mommy tell me right before she die that it aint no use trying to make things right on this earth. She was right, it really aint no use. Sarah, thats why Im always telling you that you got to obey Master and Mrs. Allen and all the overseers. If anybody make trouble and dont work or try to run, they get sold off and dont nobody got to tell us where they go and we sure aint never going to see them again. Girl, you know I aint got a single sister, brother, cousin, aunt, or uncle that I know where they is, nobody, nobody but you and Belle. Thats all I got left on earth.

She held me closer. Belle was silent, sitting across from us at the table. I asked Mama if she knew what happened to her parents and brothers and sisters.

Dont know about my pa, where he at, because he got sold. I remember when I was little, at night in our cabin, and Mommy and Pa think me and my brothers and sisters was sleeping, many times Mommy and Pa used to talk real soft, and Pa told Mommy he was going to run. Mommy cry and say no, because she was scared, but Pa say he was going to do it and find a way to get all of us out, he say there was people that can help him run and can help get the rest of the family out, too. Mommy, oh, my poor mother, we bury her after the overseer beat her so bad after she step in to try to keep him from beating Pa when they catch him after he ran. We bury Mommy at the graves by the fields.

My mother poured us water from the pitcher and cut us each a slice of cake. We were silent as we ate, and when we finished the cake my mother resumed telling us about our family.

After Mommy die, Master Allens father sold my three sisters and two brothers, who know where to, and left me to live with one of the granny women who take care of the little children of the mothers that work in the Hall. I was only about ten years old then and old Master Allen told the cook to teach me how to cook. The granny woman, Miss Thomasina, she always took good care of me, even after I was grown, but she died a few months after Belle was born.

She kissed me on the top of my head before she continued.

If you want, on Sunday, Ill take the two of you to the graves where they bury us. I aint been there in many years, its hard because the last time I went was when I was pregnant with Belle and all I did was cry the rest of the day.

Later that week, my mother, assuming that the wooden cross on my grandmothers grave had disintegrated over the years, asked a carpenter to make her a cross, and she borrowed a large shovel from a gardener. That next Sunday, after the preacher read us the Bible and we made dinner, Mama, carrying the cross, took Belle, who carried the shovel, and me to the area where, I learned, the Allen slaves were buried. This was my first time at the graves for the slaves, but I was familiar with the cemetery where some of the Allens were buried, in an area enclosed with wrought-iron fences, because we passed it on our way to the fields. Their graves were marked with ornate crosses carved from stone. I was eager to know about the graves where the slaves were buried, but my curiosity was tempered by Mamas sadness. She was holding my hand tightly, and as we approached the graves, she released my hand to remove a handkerchief from her apron pocket and wipe tears from her face. I was comforted that Belle was with us because she joined me in consoling our mother, Belle by putting her arm around Mamas shoulder and I by kissing Mamas hand.

The slaves burial ground was not a cemetery such as those one sees nowadays; it was simply open, rough land where nothing but weeds grew. We could only tell where the graves were located by the wooden crosses atop mounds of soil. We were the only ones there that day, and we dug in different places trying to find my grandmothers coffin, which, my mother said, had a carved rose, my grandmothers favorite flower. We never found a coffin with a rose. Belle and I did not cry until we found a clump of hair, which we reburied, because my mother said if that was all that remained of a person, even if we did not know whose hair it was, the Lord would want us to honor it as if it were the persons body. We said a prayer and thanked the Lord for our lives after we placed the wooden cross on top of the soil over where we buried that clump of hair.

My mother held Belle and me as we returned to Allen Hall. The sadness I felt after I learned how Mr. Allens father treated my grandparents and our other kin in life and death made me fearful whenever our mother left Belle and me in our cabin at night. It also made me believe, for the first time, that if I asked my mother, she would agree we should leave the Allen plantation.

That year, when I was about six years old, I watched Mrs. Allen and Clarissa when they were together. When Clarissa sat on her mothers lap or embraced her, I was envious because my mother worked the entire day and most nights she was away from our cabin. I missed her when she was not with us and could not sleep until she returned, always before dawn. The mornings after she left, when her eyes met mine, she seemed ashamed, and that made me miserable.

Once, when we were having our breakfast, she seemed preoccupied. I tickled her under her chin, which normally made her laugh. This time, however, she barely smiled. I asked her why she was so sad.

Im just tired, is all, baby. Just tired.

I asked her why we could not go where she would not have to work so hard, and she spoke to me in a fierce voice.

Dont you ever, ever talk about that again, and you listen to me good. Just talking like that can get us sold. You know what it mean to be sold? It mean they send us to different places, and we aint never going to see each other again. Maybe you think just because Mrs. Allen let you play with Miss Clarissa all the time that youre just like her, but you aint nothing like Miss Clarissa. She can say what she want. You got to watch every thing you say. And dont you forget, we is all we got.

I wanted my mother to stop going away; I was afraid that she would not come back. One night, I held on to her.

Dont go, Mama, dont go.

She smoothed my hair.

Say you wont go, Mama. Say you wont go.

Sarah, I got to, baby.

I do not remember how many weeks elapsed before she finally tired of my attempts to prevent her from leaving.

Belles right here with you. Come on, Sarah, stop it.

She handed me over to Belle, who folded me in her long arms. I gave my mother a foul look. I hate you, I hate you. Go, and I dont care if you never come back.

She sat on the bed and cried. I buried my face in the pillow. After some time, I heard her walk across the cabin floor and close the door behind her.

The battle between us continued, but I learned to wound her with silent reproach. One evening, after our prayers, I asked her why she had to leave us. She spoke in a gentle voice.

Sarah, you too young for me to say what Im about to tell you, but you need to hear it. You and Belle is smart girls. I been blessed that way. I was hoping to have this talk with you when you was grown. But in this life, we got to be older than our real years.

Im going to tell you something that you cant repeat to nobody, not even Miss Clarissa. Youre going to have to promise me before I tell you.

I promise. Ill be a big girl and I wont tell.

Sarah, I go to I go to Mr. Allen. Thats where I go at night.

Why?

Because he say I got to.

Why do you have to?

I already told you. We got to do everything him and Mrs. Allen, the overseers, and even Miss Clarissa say.

Why?

We we belong to Mr. and Mrs. Allen.

What do you mean?

You know how when the preacher read us the Bible he told us stories about what happened to the Israelites, how they was in bondage and they had to do everything Pharaoh say? How when they was too tired to work, they got whipped? You remember the story about how Moses prayed to God to set the people of Israel free? And at first, Pharaoh wont let the Israelites go but then, after God put him through many trials, he had to or God was going to keep making bad things happen to him and his family and the Egyptians?

But why were they in bond bondage?

Because most of the people aint want to worship God. The people of Israel was in slavery for four hundred thirty years, but God told them that, if they believe in him, they was going to be free when they died. We got to believe the same thing, because if we dont, we aint going to get through this life on earth. Whatever happen to us, Sarah, if we is ever separated, were going to see each other again when we get to heaven. You see what Im telling you?

Yes, Mama, everything, but why Mr. Allen want you to be with him?

Girl humph. Baby, you really is too young to know that. But were going to have that talk. Well have that talk when youre older.

She caressed my cheek for a bit before she went to our owner. I did not tell my mother the entire truth. I did not understand most of what she told me or how we could belong to Mr. and Mrs. Allen. I did comprehend what she said about having to believe that God would reunite us after we died, and that belief helped to calm my fear every time she left us to see our master.

As I was a child, I remained resentful and provoked quarrel after quarrel. One late night, she sat, took off her shoes, and rubbed her feet. She did not change into her nightdress.

Why you have to go to him? Stay with us, Mama.

Sarah, stop it. I got to do everything they tell me.

I got out of bed and stamped my foot and yelled. Why cant we go someplace else?

She slapped me. I wiped the tears from my eyes.

How many times do I have to tell you? Are you deaf? Maybe you aint as smart as I think you is. Im going to tell you one last time. If I ever hear you say that again, or if I ever hear that you say that to somebody else, Im going to take a switch to you and beat you so bad you is every color but yellow. You hear me? Do you hear me?

Yes, Mama. I wont ever say that again.

Yall go to sleep. She pointed at me. Get back in bed. And Sarah, you aint putting me through this mess again.

Yes, maam, I mean no, maam.

Belle later told me why it frightened Mama when I spoke about running away. Sarah, you need to know what Mama said happen to people who try to run. They hunt and bring them back. Then they beat them. Them that run away more than one time, they get a foot or toes cut off. The beatings always happen in front of all the slaves, even small children. They gather the slaves around so they all see. They strip the person who ran and put them in the stock with their hands screwed down and their feet tied together. Some they just sell to nigger traders. It better for us here than someplace else because we with each other and we dont work no fields.

Belle was the daughter of a blacksmith who was born in Africa and was sold when she was about a year old. When I think about Belle today, I try to remember her only when she was happy, because otherwise I am overtaken by a pain that makes me feel weak and disinterested in my daily, monotonous life. That Belle would have suffered as she did still leads me to question our Lord, and I do so because Belle was a good person who was mindful of others, especially those whose kin had been sold, as her father was, never to be seen again.

Some of my earliest memories of Belle were of how she cared for me when our mother was gone at night, and how she taught me and the little girls who lived near us and whose parents also worked at Allen Hall how to sew, knit, embroider, jump rope, and plait each others hair. Belle would apply a poultice to the bruised skin of a child who had fallen. If Belle saw an elder who was having difficulty walking, she lent her arm to lean on. If the kin of a neighbor or friend passed away, Belle helped Mama prepare meals for the family while they were grieving.

Belle did so much for me, and for that reason I am grateful to her. When I could not sleep at night because Mama was not there, Belle would stay awake with me until Mama returned or until I could not keep my eyes open, telling me stories, some of which Mama learned from Belles father. When I cried because I missed Mama or I was afraid that the overseers would come to our cabin with their guns and search our belongings, Belle would sit me on her lap and embrace me. When I was older, it was Belle, not my mother, who would assist me when I had a question of great consequence. As many sisters do, I suppose, Belle and I told each other about incidents in our lives that we never told our mother, not because we were afraid of what she would say, but to protect her from additional pain or suffering.

Once when our mother was away at night, Belle told me how her father and other children from his village were taken as slaves from distant lands across the ocean. Belle did not remember her father, whom she called Papa, but she frequently repeated what our mother told her about him.

When he was a boy, Papa live in a village by a great river called the Senegal, where many birds, of all sizes and colors, fly through every year. In the dry season, the little boys always finish their chores fast so they can play by the river.

One afternoon, the men is fishing on the other side of the village. The ladies and girls is at the market, trading. The old people and the babies is in their huts because its too hot for them to be outside. About fifteen boys is playing by the river when they see strange men in a big boat. The men wave at the boys and sail right up to them.

One of the men ask the boys if they want to go in the boat. A boy say no, were too little to go fishing. The man laugh. We aint fishing. We just want to show you what it be like in the ocean. Come with us. The ocean is bigger than your little river. Well, that is the wrong thing to say to little boys because theyre proud of their river, even though theyre also very scared.

The men get out the boat. A boy yell to the others and they run. Just then, some of the old people come out their huts and scream that strangers is in the village. By the time the old people reach the riverbank, the strangers have some of the boys and is chasing after others. They have guns that nobody in the village ever seen before. The old people try to stop the strangers from taking their boys, but a man point the gun and shoot. When one old man fall down with blood all over him, the village folk all stop to stare, and the strangers grab most the boys and put them in chains.

They take the boys to the boat and start sailing away. The villagers is saying, Stop, stop, please, dont take our little boys. But it aint too long after theyre sailing that Papa cant hear the people no more.

That night, because a full moon is shining, the black ocean is made of glass. Its so cold that the boys sit close to each other to keep warm. Every now and then, they see a big fish jump up, fly through the air, and go back in the water.

The stars is so big and bright that you think you can take one down. Papa tell one of the boys who cant stop crying to look up. He tell him theyre the same stars they got back home so they cant be too far from the village.

The next morning, they get to a island where the houses is all in pink, peach, yellow, or blue. The men take the boys off the boat. Theres people walking on the sand. A boy say to them, Dont you see what they is doing to us? Help us. But the people just keep looking ahead.

Then, for the first time in their life, the boys see a man with pink skin on his face and hands. They stare at him. The men who took them pull on the chains. Keep moving, keep moving, you country boys, they say.

They get to a pink house and put them in a room thats crowded with other boys. The room stink because they dont let them wash and they only let them use the outhouse but one time a day. One thing they aint expecting, the men who took them give them a lot of food and water. The pink house have a hole where they put you if you try to run. You have to stay in there for two days with nothing to eat or drink.

When they been there about three weeks, they take a bunch of boys out the room. Then they take more. None of them boys come back. They take a group with Papa in it to another part of the house. Papa smell something nasty.

When they get to another room, they tell the boys to wait outside a close door. The stink is worse. The boys outside dont hear nothing. They keep taking the boys in one at a time and none of them ever come out.

They take Papa in the room and close the door and tell him to take his shirt off. One man is kneeling in front of a fireplace with his back to everybody. Two men put Papa on a table, face up, one man on each side of him, holding him down. One man cover Papas mouth. Even though its hot, Papa is shaking, like its cold. The man who was kneeling in front of the fire get up and turn around. Hes holding a steaming iron like the field hands use on sheep and cows.

Papa try to get the men off him, but they dont let him go and they keep his mouth covered. The man holding the iron press it into his chest and Papa faint. When he come out of it, he forget where he is and look for his mama. But just the men is there. Papa look down at his chest and it look like meat that just start to cook.

They get him up and walk him through a different door to another room where they have all the boys. All of the boys is staring at the wall looking at something that aint there. When all the boys is branded, they take them back to the room where they put them when they first get to the island. There, the men look at the boys from time to time to see if their wounds is healing.

After about a month since they get there, they take everybody back to the water and put them on a bigger boat than the one they bring them in. When the boat is sailing, Papa look back and stare at the island until there is no more spots of pink peach yellow or blue.

 

Copyright 2013 by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 27 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2010

    Great book

    I enjoyed this novel while learning more about certain aspects of this period. The story was engaging and the characters were interesting. Easy read and the author is fantastic. Would recommend for book club and anyone who would like to understand more about slavery and women.
    A topic worth exploring. Great surprise ending.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair a

    I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

    I have just been loving dual narrative novels lately.  I can’t believe how many I have read, most in a row, and honestly, I seem to love each and every one of them.

    The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden is one of those dual narrative novels.

    The Wedding Gift is the story of Sarah Campbell, a slave during the 1850s, whose father is the plantation owner.  Sarah is the playmate to and the maid of Clarissa, her half-sister.  Although this isn’t fully known to them at the time (but don’t worry, you find out soon enough, so it’s not giving anything away!).

    The other narrative is told by Theodora Allen, the mistress of the plantation.

    Sarah’s not happy as a slave.  But why should she be?  And Theodora seems to be a little too free-thinking as a mistress.

    The Wedding Gift kept me hooked for most of the story.  At one point, maybe 3/4 of the way through, it lagged a little.  However, the ending twist was completely shocking and made up for the lag.

    This would be a good novel for you to read if you’re a fan of The Help by Kathryn Stockett or The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

    If my review doesn’t at least intrigue you, the positive feedback from authors like Tom Wolfe and Kathleen Grissom should at least pique your interest.

    This book comes out today, so make sure you pick up your copy of the novel.

    Are you a fan of the dual narrative novel?

    Thanks for reading, 

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2013

    An excellent book that compells you to keep turning the pages.  

    An excellent book that compells you to keep turning the pages.  I love it when a book is not formula and not predictable and this one definitely fits that bill.  Very exciting debut novel and I cannot wait for the next.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2013

    Loved it! I really enjoyed this book!  It takes place a little

    Loved it!

    I really enjoyed this book!  It takes place a little more than 10 years before the Civil War and is told by two women; Sarah, a house slave on a plantation and also Theodora, the wife of her owner.  The story only grazes upon some of the atrocities that were heaped upon slaves in this dark period of our history, but it does give some insight into it.  The story unfolds around the characters as Sarah grows up with Theodora's daughter as they are the same age.  The crowning touch was the revelation that Sarah discloses as the book finishes!  It was sad that these characters are done but all I have to say about Sarah is:  "Well played!"

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2012

    highly recommended

    The book was really good, better than I thought it would be. The ending was a surprise. Must read it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2010

    Great Book!

    I stayed up until two o'clock in the morning reading this, and I didn't want it to end. A person from my book club recommended the book, and I am glad he did. Great story! Great writer! I can't wait until the author comes out with another novel.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 25, 2013

    Great book!

    This is an interesting book about the lives of people before the Civil War. This book gives the perspective from the slave owners and the slaves.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    Highly recommended

    I could not put this book down. Excellent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 31, 2012

    I loved this book. I had trouble putting it down. I love histo

    I loved this book. I had trouble putting it down. I love historical novels. Surprised with the ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2010

    A Great Read

    I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed it. It is a perfect book to discuss in your book club.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2010

    Fantastic Read!!!!

    I loved this book, I read it over a weekend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 25, 2014

    Absolutely amazing book.  Can't believe it's Bodden's first.  I

    Absolutely amazing book.  Can't believe it's Bodden's first.  I can't say enough good about it. If she writes anything more, and I pray she does, It will be on the top of my TBR list.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2014

    Great Story!


    Loved this story! Realistic, heartfelt. Wonderful characters. Great book! Looking forward to more from this stellar author who I thank for this very enjoyable read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2014

    Good Read

    Could not put this book down! It's worth the money, a splendid tale mixed with a roller coaster of emotion.



    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 17, 2014

    Highly Recommended - you must check it outVery

    Very good story with a unusal ending.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2014

    Characters are interchangeable. Especially hard to feel a connec

    Characters are interchangeable. Especially hard to feel a connection with the characters when they all sound the same, as if reading from a 12 year old's diary. Monotonous and repetitive. I believe the author had a great idea, juxtaposing a young black female with an older white female, set in a time of slavery, but the conception fell short of anything novel or interesting. I do not recommend.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2014

    Just finished this book and read it in two days. I liked the swi

    Just finished this book and read it in two days. I liked the switching back and forth between Sarah and Theodora. Two strong ladies and I'm a sucker for a happy ending!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 11, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Two half sister

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

    Two half sisters, one is a slave to the family and the other sister and she realizes through the book that freedom is all she wants and she is willing to give up many things to get it.  This book starts when both girls are at a young age and then progresses through many ups and downs and ends when adulthood is under way.  

    I loved the new take on a subject that has many books written about it - slavery in the South.  Told from two perspectives made the book so much deeper than if it had only been told from one - both the slave Sarah and the mother of the home Theodora Allen tell the story and sometimes a scene overlaps which was awesome to see two people tell a story through their own eyes.  If you think you have read all the books about slavery in the South, stop and read this one - a different glimpse that with the hope of freedom put the book in the most positive light.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    worth the money

    This is a Great story. Kept me moving until the very perfect ending!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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