In 2011, Washington writer Dolen Perkins-Valdez published “Wench,” an unsparing look at the brutal relationships between Southern plantation owners and the slaves they kept as mistresses. She captured the horrific treatment of these women even as they attempted to maintain their dignity. And now, in her second novel, “Balm,” she tells an equally moving story set in post-Civil War Chicago.

When the Civil War ended and former slaves were able to travel, many of them migrated north in search of work in cities where communities of emancipated blacks were thriving. Perkins-Valdez brings together three memorable characters who, if the War Between the States had not taken place, never would have come together.

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