The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

The Wedding Gift: The story was good but not excellent. I don’t think it adequately portrayed the horrors of the slave trade. Nor did it create a group of people with whom I could identify. I expected more from the book. I found myself re-listening to chapter after chapter, buried in details. A few of the relationships in the book were interesting enough – but many were superficial. I wasn’t drawn in to them as I usually am. The plot seemed in some senses formulaic. A horrific and brutal beating of a female slave in front of her children and all the other slaves. A master who impregnated slaves at a whim – all part of good husbandry for the plantation. Slaves running from dogs. Etc… I felt like it was “just enough” of each to hit some quota.

I do think the story accurately presented women in law and society at that time. The legal maneuvering about the marriage agreement was very interesting. It was as complicated as our prenuptial agreements today.

Spoiler Alert from this point on:

I think the ending was unrealistic. I don’t believe a plantation owner would free the number of slaves Cornelius freed at his death. I didn’t see any true reform or growth in him that would have resulted in such an act and it would have been too financially crippling for even a huge financial cotton empire like the one Cornelius was running.

The “issue” with the baby was never clear. We knew that the baby wasn’t the husband’s but we were led to believe we knew who the father probably was – another white suitor. We knew the timing was going to be “fudged” so when the baby came early – we expected there could be trouble. However, Clarissa was known to be pregnant before the marriage so the marriage deal took this into consideration so it shouldn’t have been a deal breaker. The financial value of the deal was huge and the husband wanted it badly enough to fight for it in court after casting Clarissa out – it would have been much more believable if he just sent Clarissa and the child to another home in silent disgrace and the reward would have been his without argument. As an example: It would have also been very acceptable for Clarissa to have returned to her parent’s home for her “confinement” where she would have had good care from well-trained midwives that she knew, and where the child’s precocious development could have been covered quite easily by people who would have protected the information. Instead, the baby is delivered at the home of an unloving husband by an incompetent doctor who leaves the birth in “disgust” to report to the father. It seems obvious that his failure to help complete the birthing process directly contributes to Clarissa’s death. She is then shuttled off to her parent’s home before she should have been moved. At first the implication was baby was just more mature than it should have been – later it is also obvious the child was at least part black. It isn’t ever made clear how this happened. (It could have been that there was a black ancestor who had been well hidden before this time!) – regardless, Clarissa’s whole life unravels very quickly from this point on. Even with the cultural pressures of the time, most people found ways to keep their families together and survive this type of scandal. It would have been more believable if they had reported the child dead at birth to Clarissa and the world at large. This would have been very believable since it was early according to the wedding date and because so many children were lost at birth. The baby could then have been given to a slave to raise on another plantation. Instead, this family seems determined to take the worst path and make the worst choices. The whole family dissolves.

There was one pleasant surprise. Sarah quietly amidst all the upheaval pulls off a great coup of revenge that we never expected her to be capable of.

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About Kiwi Starr

Wife, Christian believer, mother of two adult children, Grandmother of Two toddlers, Great Aunt to many, retired science teacher, writer, animal lover.
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