Thursday, October 15, 2015

#Diversiverse Review: Balm, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

I thought Dolen Perkins-Valdez's first novel, Wench, was excellent.  It was so well-written and so evocative of what life may have been like for a slave woman in the American South.  So many conflicting loyalties.  So little power.

It's not surprising, then, that I was so looking forward to Perkins-Valdez's new book, Balm.  I mistakenly thought that Balm was a companion novel to Wench.  It is not; it's a completely different story with completely different characters.  Personally, I did not find these characters nearly half as compelling or three-dimensional as the characters in Wench, so this book did not quite hold up to the promise of the first.

Balm takes place at the end of the Civil War and centers on three people who are all dealing with the ghosts of their pasts, some more literally than others.  Madge comes to Chicago from Kentucky, where she inherited a supernatural power to heal from many generations of women.  Hemp is a former slave who comes to the city looking for his wife and her child, both of whom were sold off without him.  And Sadie is a widow, haunted by the ghost of a Civil War soldier.  The three of them meet in Chicago, but before they can move forward with their lives, they have to face their pasts.

I appreciate the intent of this book.  After tackling the antebellum South, Perkins-Valdez moves north to give us a glimpse into what life was like for blacks and whites in the north as the tide of war turns.  War obviously leaves multiple wounds on people, but Perkins-Valdez has just as much empathy for the wounds people carry from before the war, and how those wounds can impact life for years and years later.

I admit that I found this book pretty boring.  I didn't connect with any of the characters, which was disappointing after how much empathy I had for Perkins-Valdez's characters in Wench.  I just didn't think any of the histories were that compelling and didn't really care to see the story through to ensure that all of them came to terms with their pasts and moved on.  I read this one on audiobook, and I don't think the narrator was all that great, either, so that possibly had a huge impact on the way I read this book.

Balm wasn't a hit for me at all, but based on GoodReads and Amazon and LibraryThing reviews, it's quite popular with other readers!  That said, I would still highly recommend that you read Wench over Balm, and that you read Wench very soon.


  1. I'm surprised you stayed with it. :<))

  2. Boring? How...well boring

  3. I'm sorry but I just am not going to get a post done for your great challenge. I did read The Housekeeper and the Professor, but haven't had any solid time to think through, and write, a posting. I'll try and join another time.

  4. Shame! I didn't read Wench because well frankly I have a v. hard time reading novels about slavery and I am a wimp that way.

    Aarti I am super sorry I didn't get a post up for this year's #Diversiverse. I am a poop and I apologize. September and October ended up being way more hectic than I expected, and blah, I just didn't do anywhere near the amount of reading I thought I'd be able to. Damn you, real life!


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