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vam (San Antono, Texas)
The House Girl by Conklin
My review is based on the soft back edition of this book which I received free from the publisher as an "Advance Readers Edition" in exchange for the promise that I would write a review.
The House Girl is an engrossing read
Unlike many books where it takes several chapters before you are drawn into the story, I was immediately captivated by this book. The primary message in the book for me was the comparison between the hopes and dreams of two girls. One was a modern day smart young white female lawyer raised by a single father who thought she knew who she was and what she wanted but found that true satisfaction laid elsewhere. The other girl was a young gifted black girl raised as a "thing" on a Virginia plantation who had never been beyond the gates of the Virginia plantation but had an inner desire to be "free" even while having no concept of what being free would actually consist of. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, these two women had much in common.
There were a multitude of the examples of how horribly the slaves were treated during those days – I thank God that this era of slavery is behind us. There were also hints at the various ways people of today are actually enslaved by controlling things and people. In addition, the novel explored the pros and cons of the question of whether we Americans in 2012 still owe the black people "back pay" for the contributions made by their forefathers in building this great country we all live in.
The two primary characters were very well developed and I could relate to both of them. Unfortunately, I never was able to dive into the mind of some members of the supporting cast. For instance, it would have been interesting to know what really drove the plantation owner. I concluded that a series of failures had made him a bitter and brutal person and I think his reactions were sadly true to life when our dreams fall apart, but I wished I had been able to explore some of his mental processes.
The book was an easy read with a somewhat simple plot but hidden within the tapestry of the plot are several diverse threads that provide insights into the different ways that we humans are wired by God to live and think.
I have always thought that the words “page-turner” is a very descriptive term for a novel that keeps me engrossed in the story and sympathetic to the characters. "The House Girl" is all of that, and I stayed up a couple of nights until the late hours because I just had to know what happened next.
Josephine Bell stole my heart; she is a house slave in Virginia, and we pick up her story in 1852. In a way she is privileged: Her mistress has taught her to read and allows her to paint alongside her. But Josephine is enslaved and longs to run. Part of me wanted her to run, but part of me wanted her to stay, in fear of what would happen to her if she were caught.
Forward to New York City, 2004, to Lina Sparrow, a new lawyer and the daughter of Oscar, a famous, if not particularly financially successful, painter, who for many years has been keeping secrets from Lina about her mother, who was also an artist. Lina begins an investigation into the life of Josephine Bell, and concurrently, her curiosity about her mother is piqued by her father’s upcoming show of paintings of her mother. Like Josephine, Lina is a strong, well-developed character, and her relationship with Oscar is another slant on the age-old theme of a child’s ambivalence, taking steps to back away from dependence on the parent while still wanting the closeness they have always had.
I liked the way the author used letters as a clever way to move the story along without slowing down the action and magazine and newspaper articles to fill in some details.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels, stories about family dynamics, mysteries, or who might be looking for a great book club selection.