A stunning debut novel of love, family, and justice that intertwines the stories of an escaped house slave in 1852 Virginia and ambitious young lawyer in contemporary New York
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.
I've read many books set in the US's slavery era, and this is one of the best. It poses a unique connection between a young slave "house girl" and a driven New York lawyer. The House Girl portrays an inspiring story of how, through art, a person survives long after leaving this world. (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Conklin ... is a skilled writer ... who knows how to craft a thoughtful page-turner ...We’re glued to the pages.
Striving for affecting revelations, Conklin manages nothing more than unsatisfying platitudes and smugly pat realizations.
Stretching back and forth across time and geography, this riveting tale is bolstered by some powerful universal truths.
Provocative issues of race and gender intertwine in earnest if uneven issues-oriented fiction.
Luminous . . . The rare novel that seamlessly toggles between centuries and characters and remains consistently gripping throughout . . . Powerful.
Starred Review. A seamless juxtaposition of past and present, of the lives of two women, and of the redemptive nature of art and the search for truth and justice. Guaranteed to keep readers up long past their bedtimes.
Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
Tara Conklin’s powerful debut novel is a literary page-turner filled with history, lost love, and buried family secrets. Conklin masterfully interweaves the stories of two women across time, all while asking us to contemplate the nature of truth and justice in America.
Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
There’s so much to admire in The House Girl -- two richly imagined heroines, two fully realized worlds, a deeply satisfying plot -- but what made me stand up and cheer was the moral complexity of these characters and the situations they face. I’m grateful for this transporting novel.
Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke The House Girl is an enthralling story of identity and social justice told through the eyes of two indomitable women, one a slave and the other a modern-day attorney, determined to define themselves on their own terms.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Becky H THE HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin Josephine is a 17 year old slave in antibellum Virginia while Lina is a twenty something up and coming lawyer in present day NYC. The lives of these two become entwined when a wealthy Black client of Lina’s law firm starts a “slave reparations”... Read More
Rated of 5
by dlpiano The House Girl The House Girl was full of unraveling mysteries that kept me reading in order to find the outcome! At the same time the insight into slavery and the modern cooperate world was enlightening! The ending was not what I expected or wanted but I truly... Read More
Rated of 5
by Emily G. (Clear Lake, MN) Skillful handling of complex stories It took me a while to get drawn into this book. I was skeptical about the slavery reparations lawsuit that serves as a catalyst for Lina Sparrow's search and I feared another slave narrative.
However, about half way through the book, I... Read More
Rated of 5
by Sandra C. (Rensselaer, New York) The House Girl While the subject is interesting I found the weaving in of the sub-plots disjointed and not as developed as they could have been. As a member of a book club, I do not think book clubs would enjoy having this book for discussion. I think there were... Read More
Rated of 5
by Marjorie (Florida) Art Redeems the Soul Josephine Bell is the catalyst that launches an inquiry into the historical past, to unearth the mystery of what happened to the artist who fashioned the artwork that survived time. Her story is not unlike others in her class and station, in the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Sherrie B. (Fishers, IN) Absolutely fascinating! The combination of present day and 1800's history is amazing. This is such a different story and so smartly written. I would highly recommend this to all booklovers but especially people who enjoy good historical fiction.
Tara Conklin's novel The House Girl weaves two stories together: 17-year-old Josephine, a slave who flees a tobacco farm in West Virginia in 1852, and Lina, a lawyer seeking reparations for the descendants of African American slaves in 2004. While the idea of reparations is not new, it has gained more of a spotlight within the last decade.
To understand its concept, it is useful to understand the philosophy of Restorative Justice, which seeks to restore harm done to both the victim of a particular crime and the community from which the victim comes. Unlike Retributive Justice, which focuses specifically on punishment for the breaking of laws, it addresses the wider social network: the people who are affected by those broken laws, and the communities in which they live. According to the tenets of Restorative Justice, only by addressing the real and specific harm that has been done to actual individual people and their communities can healing begin to occur. Restitution, or reparation, is an important tool in the Restorative Justice process. It is a sort of...
This is a story about men whose lives began in slavery, who weathered the Civil War; newly freed men who have to fight for their liberties, hoping the federal government will come to their aid. But after a deadly racial massacre, once-proud families are left to deal with the wreckage and find the strength to push on.
This is one of 3 readalike suggestions for The House Girl. Members have full access to all readalikes. If you are a member, please login. To find out more about membership, click here.
Author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen dies(Dec 20 2013) British novelist Paul Torday, who had a surprise best-seller with his debut novel "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," has died at age 67, his publisher said...