The Wedding Gift: Book summary and reviews of The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

The Wedding Gift

By Marlen Suyapa Bodden

The Wedding Gift
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2013,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

When prestigious 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 a proper southern belle she appears to be with ambitions of loving who she chooses and 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 and it will leave you enraptured until the very end.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Wedding Gift. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

A solution to Clarissa's situation
I reread parts of the book by reading it according to the speaker's chapters. So much was written online about the shocking ending regarding Clarissa's confession; however, I would like others opinions on Charles the brother of Cornelius. Since he ... - Windsong

Did any of the information the author provided about slavery, slave owners or slavery laws surprise you
I was not surprised, but was enlightened. - swchis39

Did any parts of the story make you uncomfortable, and if so, why?
All books about this blight on our history make me uncomfortable in some way. I find it deplorable and incomprehensible that people held other people as captives and treated them reprehensibly. It defies common sense and human decency. - thewanderingjew

Did you see modern parallels in any of the characters' predicaments? If so, to which could you relate?
Yes, there is still slavery today in the United States. I just read an on-line FBI report that said human sex trafficking is the most common form of modern day slavery. - jeann

Had you already guessed that Sarah was responsible for the acts she admits to?
That never even crossed my mind. I was surprised that someone so abused would so abuse another, even one who had been so disloyal. - thewanderingjew

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. 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." - Publishers Weekly

"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...Also masterfully captured here is the boundless quest to live fully free." - Diane McKinney-Whetstone, author of Tumbling

"Plodding prose, leaden dialogue and a gratuitous trick ending undermine what is otherwise a fraught and entertaining story enhanced with convincing period detail." - Kirkus

"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

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Becky H
Read The Help or The Color Purple instead
I’m still not sure where or when the prologue was supposed to take place – perhaps it was a dream?

After some very stilted conversations and an inconsistent use of dialect, the story is interesting and holds your attention to the end. However, there are too many coincidences and the slaves are often well cared for (or allowed a lot of free time) by slave owners we are supposed to be appalled and repelled by. That is not to say slaves were not ill-treated and horribly abused, they were. Just that the depiction is as inconsistent as the dialect.

Fathers in the antebellum South are shown as overbearing, browbeating, abusive scoundrels. Mothers are meek and cowed. Sons are distant and uncaring. In other words many of the characters are caricatures. Still I enjoyed the book.

Book groups will be discussing slavery, abusive husbands and fathers, the role of women, education priorities, gossip and social ostracism among other topics. A comparison with The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird and/or The Color Purple would be an interesting discussion.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Anita Fitzwater-Stevens
Disappointing
The Wedding Gift has two main characters that could be great. The wife of an abusive plantation master and his illegitimate daughter--they could tell us so much about the experiences of women of that time and place. But, this book falls far short of similar novels by telling in bland voices instead of showing the reader so they get drawn in. The most disappointing element is a shift at the very end of the novel that changes completely the reader's ideas about the main characters.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by karen
I loved this book
This is a well written book about slavery in the south. The characters are very real and you feel a connection to them. The book chapters are written from the perspective of different characters in the story. Like The Help and Kitchen Girl, this reviews a painful time of our history. The author writes in a style that is engaging and fast paced. I look forward to her second book.

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More Information

More Information

Marlen Suyapa Bodden is a lawyer at The Legal Aid Society in New York City, the nation's oldest and largest law firm for the poor. She drew on her knowledge of modern and historical slavery, human trafficking, and human rights abuses to write The Wedding Gift, her first novel. Marlen is a graduate of New York University School of Law and Tufts University. In 2012, the University of Rhode Island awarded Marlen an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Visit her at www.marlenbodden.com

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