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Property Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

Valerie Martin's Property is a uniquely woven story told from the bitter, ill-tempered slave mistress's perspective.  It is set in 1820's Louisiana where Manon Gaudet is wooed and married at an early age to an older gentleman who seems to be smitten with her beauty.  Slavery is commonplace and the laws of the day transfers the womans property into her husband's estate upon marriage; so although Manon seems to have good business sense, she cannot act to protect her assets and sits idly by as her husband squanders their (her) assets.  It frustrates her even more that her husband has had relations with her "property," Sarah, a wedding gift to Manon from her aunt, resulting in the birth of two children.  Sarah has borne a deaf son that bears a cloned resemblance to Manon's husband (including his red hair and green eyes).  There is no doubt that Manon feels trapped in a loveless marriage to a dull, sadistic, indebted, planter.  She outwardly despises her husband, the slaves that serve them, and is utterly miserable with the fate that society has dictated upon her. 


Time passes and during a slave revolt, Manon is wounded, her husband is killed, and Sarah escapes.  The remainder of the relatively short novel is Manon's wallowing in self-pity as a penniless, maimed widow in a male dominated society and her determination to recapture Sarah under the public guise of missing "property" that must be returned to the rightful owner.  However, it is here that the reader senses Manon's envy of Sarah and the perceived happiness she has found in her stolen freedom.  Manon's determination to bring Sarah back to fulfill her destiny in the dejected circumstances of Manon's reality is just as cruel as any act her sadistic husband would have committed.  This attitude clearly illustrates that Manon having once felt that she was her husband's property, and empathized with Sarah, cannot and will not rise above her shallowness, racism, and jealousy to allow Sarah peace.


This is a short, plausible novel that can be finished in one sitting; however, although it is original and well crafted, it seems to end abruptly without closure. I was left wanting more.  Nonetheless, Martin commands the language of the day, builds a credible cast of characters, and delivers the story with her strong writing skills. This is a compelling story told from a seldomly expressed point of view.


The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for Property is 3 out of 5 stars.  If you have any questions about this review, please write us at: