In this luminous debut, Margaret Wrinkle takes us on an unforgettable journey across continents and through time, from the burgeoning American South to West Africa and deep into the ancestral stories that reside in the soul. Wash introduces a remarkable new voice in American literature.
In early 1800s Tennessee, two men find themselves locked in an intimate power struggle. Richardson, a troubled Revolutionary War veteran, has spent his life fighting not only for his country but also for wealth and status. When the pressures of westward expansion and debt threaten to destroy everything he’s built, he sets Washington, a young man he owns, to work as his breeding sire. Wash, the first member of his family to be born into slavery, struggles to hold onto his only solace: The spirituality inherited from his shamanic mother. As he navigates the treacherous currents of his position, despair and disease lead him to a potent healer named Pallas. Their tender love unfolds against this turbulent backdrop while she inspires him to forge a new understanding of his heritage and his place in it. Once Richardson and Wash find themselves at a crossroads, all three lives are pushed to the brink.
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Slavery's Subtle Horrors
Wash offers a wide-ranging view of slavery in the post-Revolutionary era, focusing on the experiences of Africans stolen by slave traders, first-generation American slaves, owners who try to do right by their slaves and others who are just plain mean. The author does a commendable job of getting into the heads of these characters. Some of the slave owners are almost (but never quite) sympathetic, because they are strong and have suffered and because they almost (but never quite) understand their slaves as fellow human beings. They seem unaware of their own cruelty. The "good" owners like Richardson are most difficult, because they are by definition not good and because the harm they unwittingly inflict on their slaves leeches into their own families and their entire societies.
The plot turns on Richardson's use of his slave Wash as a sire, impregnating women on the other plantations for a fee. Parallels are drawn between the breeding of Wash and Richardson's breeding of horses and hounds. The motivation is purely economic. Richardson has debts, and renting out Wash raises needed cash. Wrinkle treats this horror with subtlety, showing the damage wrought on the targeted women and, over the years, their families. But some of the most beautiful passages (and there is poetry in the writing) are about the relationships built and to a degree preserved among the slaves--Wash and his African-born mentor, Rufus; Wash and his mother; Wash and the beautiful healer Pallas.
Many of the characters take turns with the narration, and some--Pallas and Wash in particular--are beautifully spoken. The book was well-written, deeply felt and thought-provoking, but not always compelling. There is plenty of action, but the plot sometimes felt artificial as it made its points. This was a worthwhile read if not always a pleasurable one.
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What did you love best about Wash?
I loved how the story, first and foremost, is about interwoven spiritual journeys -- the interwoven spiritual journeys of Wash, Pallas, Richardson, and so many others. Violence is present. Eroticism plays a role here and there. But both violence and eroticism are really deep in the background. Spirit takes center stage
What other book might you compare Wash to and why?
This book reminds me of Roots by Alex Haley -- for it's telling of the stories of the intersecting lives of southern white folk and their slaves.
Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
If you could take any character from Wash out to dinner, who would it be and why?
Rufus. He has a wonderful depth of character about him. I want to hear more about his experience on the boat -- about how and why he chose life over death
Any additional comments?
The actor who speaks the role of Wash, when it is Wash speaking in first person -- I don't know which actor that is, but he has a beautiful, musical voice, and I especially loved his performance
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- Duncan Pickett
Could not finish it
What disappointed you about Wash?
The story was just boring. At first I was into it because it felt like a great view into the world of slavery from both viewpoints. That aspect grabbed me immediately because it is just so hard to imagine the horrors of being a slave.
But as the story meandered (and it does lots of that), I just put the headphones down (3/4 of the way through). First the language was very hard for me to follow. Second I expected the story to go somewhere, which it didnt.
What do you think your next listen will be?
What about the narrators’s performance did you like?
The performance was excellent - Very Much like the Help with multiple character voices.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
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