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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Title: The House Girl
Author: Tara Conklin
Publisher: William Morrow

About the Book: Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.


My Thoughts: Where to start. . .   I did enjoy this novel very much - especially the sections that pertained to Josephine.  I really liked her character and was moved by her story.  She was a slave, but had been chosen as a house girl for LuAnne Bell.  Her life was seemingly full of contradictions.  Even though she was a slave, she lived a different life as a house girl, even getting to paint and express herself.  Though the credit for her much of her work was given to LuAnne, I am not sure she was looking for credit for her work - she was looking for a new life.

Lina, on the other hand, seemed, if not content with her life, at least in a place that she wasn't ready to "stir the pot".  She still lived with her father, and yet was an associate in a big law firm.  Her mother had been killed when she was just a little girl, and I think this was part of the reason that she still lived with her father.  It was in that house that she could remember what little she did about her mother.  There was a mystery surrounding her death because her father never really wanted to talk about it with her - so being so young when she died - she didn't really know what happened.

As she starts to research Josephine's life and to see her struggles, a series of events in her own life seem to awaken her need for a change as well. I think it was learning about Josephine, and how she never gave up to be free makes her realize she has just been drifting along in her own life - waiting for something to happen rather than going out and finding it.  She starts to see the people in her father's (and mother's previous) life in a new light.  Questioning what she thought to be the truth, forces a confrontation with her father that was far too long in happening.  

Filled with interesting characters, to me, this book explores how relationships with family and others, have an influence on our lives and the choices that we make. Would Josephine have done the same things had she not been a house girl?  Would her life have been different is she would not have been close to Lu Anne Bell?  And Lina,  if her father would have shared things about her mother when she was younger, how would that have influenced Lina's choices in life, and would her father have been able to let things go earlier than he did?  I think this book would be a great choice for a book club read as there are so many things you could discuss and explore.  

~I received a complimentary ecopy of this book from William Morrow through Edelweiss in exchange for my unbiased review.~

The House Girl
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow, Feb 2013
ISBN: 978-0062207395
384 pages

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

I've seen mixed reviews of this one so I'm on the fence since I don't read much historical fiction. Glad you enjoyed it!

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