The Housemaid's Daughter: Book summary and reviews of The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch

The Housemaid's Daughter

by Barbara Mutch

The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch X
The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch
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Book Summary

Barbara Mutch's stunning first novel tells a story of love and duty colliding on the arid plains of Apartheid-era South Africa.

When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there - her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid's daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family.

Under Cathleen's tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her - a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?

Set against the backdrop of a beautiful, yet divided land, The Housemaid's Daughter is a startling and thought-provoking novel that intricately portrays the drama and heartbreak of two women who rise above cruelty to find love, hope, and redemption.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Rich in detail and subtle in its politics, this affecting novel tells a poignant, inspiring story." - Booklist

"Interludes from Cathleen's diary, intended to supply an additional perspective, are a bit heavy-handed, as is the predictable (and bleak) ending. But a vividly drawn setting and Ada's consistent, special voice drive the story and keep the pages turning." - Publishers Weekly

"In creating a white Lady Bountiful and a wise but unworldly black servant, South African Mutch has more in common with The Help's Kathryn Stockett than Doris Lessing or Nadine Gordimer." - Kirkus

"A compelling story ... Ada's voice is by turns as lyrical and fierce as the music she plays on her beloved piano ... Mutch evokes compassion for this stark and beautiful land and for the characters who strive to find their place amidst the turmoil that grips it." - Patricia Falvey, bestselling author of The Yellow House

"[An] exquisite debut ... This is a book to be cherished, one that will grow deeper and richer with re-reading." - Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August

"If you loved The Help, try The Housemaid's Daughter ... The friendship at its center will leave your heart singing." - Good Housekeeping (UK)

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Reader Reviews

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Dagi

The Housemaid's Daughter
I loved this book. It has everything you want in a good book. I could not put it down. I was totally immersed in the story and felt very close to the characters. The writing was beautiful in its simplicity, yet it conveyed the political problems of the time very well and the hardships that the people endured.

Duane F. (Cape Girardeau, MO)

The Housemaid's Daughter
This books resounds with lyrical passages, historical and at the same time it conveys a rich sense of person. The characters are well developed and easily loved, even those one would consider as the antagonists can be seen as sympathetic. The plot is set in a period of unrest and turmoil. Apartheid and South Africa come alive as Ada ventures beyond the safety of the only home she has ever know, as a simple housemaid's daughter. The reader is engaged from the first page as this gentle, insightful, and brave young woman begins her life. Thru her narrative, we come to know the other characters.

Women of this time were considered of less value and yet it is these strong women who must contend with the new laws against the commingling of the races. To be a woman is not of value and to be a black woman is less, but to bare or be a biracial child is criminal. Wrapped in these terms, Ada and Cathleen, her Madam, must face these laws and find a way to survive. The relationship of these two women will inspire and awe the reader.

This book allows us to see their relationship first and the world second. It is an extraordinary story of bonds that can't be broken and love that surpasses their circumstances. And yet, it is written as a rhapsody, as beautiful as any piece of music. It spreads across the pages as nimbly as Ada's fingers fly across the keys, with Cathleen standing behind her back and Dawn, her daughter standing on the threshold of a new future for South Africa.

Every so often I come across a book which haunts my memory, this is one that will fill and haunt the reader at the same time.

Sylvia J

Housemaid's Struggle
This book was wonderful on so many levels, but in particular I enjoyed the relationship between Mrs. Cath and Ada. Time and time again, we see that love can cross oceans and can cross the skin color divide. I felt many times during my time spent reading this book that my heart was affected- with all of the trials and tribulations that Ada suffered- my heart at times was ripped apart by what she went through and other times it was spread open by the true love she felt for those she loved in her lifetime. Reading about apartheid- taken straight from our own Jim Crow laws in this country is not for the faint of heart. I highly recommend this book for those who too are willing to have their hearts opened first by the naïve girl and then the brave woman that Ada became.

Kathryn K. (Oceanside, CA)

Loved This Book!
The House Maidmaid's Daughter is historical fiction about apartheid in South Africa. The finely crafted story covers over forty years in time and describes how "skin" determined one's life fortune - good or bad - regardless of unfairness or democracy. It is a page turner! The author has created believable characters you cheer for, along with those who you will hold in disdain. It is such a good read! I learned things I did not know and I was touched by the power of the message the story told. I could not put the book down and I continue to think about it. I know my book group will enjoy discussing it. I loved this book!"

Freya H. (Phoenix, AZ)

The Housemaid's Daughter
What a wonderful read. From the opening sentence to the closing, the story is compelling, the characters are vividly drawn, the music, and the
land... well, it's a winner. I would highly recommend this book for Book Clubs.

Rosanne S. (Franklin Square, NY)

The Housemaid's Daughter
The Housemaids Daughter by Barbara Mutch spans decades of struggle Africans faced against apartheid. Beautifully written in the innocent voice of Ada, the housemaid's daughter, the author brings the reader and her characters on a journey toward freedom.

Barbara Mutch eloquently tells of Ada's life as she grows up in Cradock House. The story is delivered through many paths. Since Madam taught Ada to read, they communicate through the entries in Madam's diary. It is how Ada comes to know Madam's heart and soul, her longings for Ireland, for love and affection from her husband (the master) and her desire for Ada to have a life of freedom.

The story continues through their love of music. Black and white hands on a piano, signifying a prayer for unity and equality.

The repeated reference to the river Groot Vis as the dividing line between lives of white and black reflects the turmoil that Ada and her friends and family must face daily.

As innocence fades and the cruel realities of life emerge, the housemaid's daughter becomes a resounding voice speaking for those less fortunate, those of color and the human spirit.

I loved the simplicity in which this powerful story is told. The author did an incredible job creating characters of substance and value. The images of loss and desperation are clear and the drive for "liberation" can be felt. You can almost hear the piano chords being played.

I predict that Barbara Mutch will have much success with The Housemaid's Daughter. I strongly encourage readers to meet Ada Madam, Dawn and all the townsfolk who defy barriers and customs in order to have a future that is colorless.

...11 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Barbara Mutch

Barbara Mutch was born and raised in South Africa, the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. She is married with two sons and divides her time between Cape Town and London. Visit her at www.barbaramutch.com

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