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The House Girl

by Tara Conklin

The House Girl by Tara Conklin X
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2013, 384 pages

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Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
From 1852 to 2004....from one artist to another....from a farm in Virginia to the hustle and bustle of New York City.

THE HOUSE GIRL flawlessly switches between these two time periods telling of the life of Josephine, a slave girl, Lina, a New York City attorney, and Lina's father, Oscar, an artist. The book leads you through the life of Josephine as she struggles with her decision to "run, it leads you through the life of Lina who is researching families who may benefit from wrong doing during the period of slavery in the United States, and it leads you through the life of Oscar trying to make amends through his artwork.

The most significant question, though, along with finding descendants is that of who really did create the paintings found in Lu Anne Bell's home? Was it really Lu Anne or was it Josephine? Corresponding with this painting mystery and the mystery of Josephine's descendants is that of Lina's mother...what really did happen to her when Lina was only four?

You will get caught up in both stories because of the great detail Ms. Conklin uses and because of the research. I love "digging" for historical information. As you switch between the two stories, you will ask yourself to choose which life you were more interested in....Lina's or Josephine's....it may be difficult to choose since both were appealing and drew you in, but for me Josephine's story wins hands down for interest.

It took a few chapters, but you will become so involved, it becomes difficult to stop reading....you want to know what will become of the characters and the answer to the mysteries.

Each character comes alive with the vivid detail Ms. Conklin uses, and she puts their feelings out in the open...you can feel the tension, the pain, the frustration, the longing, and the fleeting happiness they experience. I really enjoyed this book because of the history and the research and of course the detailed descriptions of the characters.

The historical aspect and the fact-finding kept me up late. It is very interesting how the farm's kitchen records, crop records, and births and deaths of every person including the slaves was kept. I thoroughly enjoy these types of findings. I also wonder how these records were not destroyed and who would have thought to preserve them. Such foresight....something to be grateful for.

Don't miss this book especially if you are a historical fiction buff. This book pulls you in and will cause you to pause and reflect on the human race and have you wondering about the reasons why we do what we do, have you wondering what the reasons are that lead us to make the choices we make, and have you wondering about the reason we turned out to be the person we are. 5/5

This book was given to me without compensation by the publisher in return for an honest review.
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 enjoyed reading this book.
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 realized I was in masterful hands. Conklin created vivid worlds and engaging characters in both 1852 and 2004. She created characters who I wanted to know, for whom I rooted and about whom I cared. She never settled for the trite or obvious plot points and brought the narratives to effective and satisfying closure. I loved the focus on female artists and the questions of creativity, love, and relationships.

I think this novel would make a wonderful book club read because of the variety of complex themes involved and the many points through which readers can enter book. The House Girl is a carefully crafted exploration of identity, gender, slavery and familial relationships that I very much enjoyed.
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 late 1800's. A slave bound to her Master's wife, as a house girl confined to their land and their rules. A life that would have gone unnoticed until an unsuspecting lawyer (Lina) in the 21st century (early 2000's) is giving the task to unearth data on a case that would give back redemption to those who have all but been erased by modern history. This isn't just a story that evokes the tragedy of those enslaved in the South, but rather a silver lining of Hope… that their lives took on greater meaning and purpose when their lives started to intersect with others. It's through this intersection where the ripples of small kindnesses and hours of bravery, began to change the lives of others. I found that inside the secondary characters held within the House Girl, the simplest of truths to step forward. Peace with Self. Strength in Resolve. Determined Self Reliance. And the hope of freedom. Oppression comes in different forms, as even those who live free are not always free to do what their hearts desire.

I believe this would make an excellent addition to an Art History class or a Civil Rights class which focuses on slavery in the South. The tone of the book is uplifting, shattering past the blights of misery to yield a lens into how strong women can be in the moments that count the most.
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.
Lynne B. (S. Lake Tahoe, CA)

A Truly Original and Enduring Historical Mystery
The House Girl proved thoroughly fascinating and cleverly written in such a way as to so hold my attention that I read the entire book in not much more than 6 hours. The story line of the young lawyer paralleled with Josephine the slave girl both seeking their life's meaning more than 150 years apart was very engaging. These were characters so rich and emotionally satisfying that you truly came to care about what they were going through. Tara Conklin is an author we should be hearing much more about very soon. This will be a book I suggest to all my friends and my book clubs.
Carol R. (Foster City, CA)

Powerfully and Beautifully Written
Tara Conklin's first book, "The House Girl," entranced me. It is cleverly conceived, weaving back and forth from the mid-19th century to the present time and weaving in characters from the past and present as they become relevant to the story. The author made me care deeply about the characters and want to know them. I loved the words she chose to write with; she has a gift for embedding the reader in the story and describing long ago events so that the reader can picture them. This book would be perfect for book clubs and would lead to great conversation. Highly recommend and I can't wait for the author's next book!
Jacquelyn H. (Blanco, TX)

A DELIGHT
I am a retired DoDDS English teacher and old students still contact me asking if I'd recommend some good reading. THE HOUSE GIRL by Tara Conklin will certainly be one of the books highly recommended. This book is one to take to bed and read long into the night. The story tells of two "house girls", in different time periods whose paths cross. One, Josephine, is an escaped slave from 1852 and the other, Lina, a young lawyer from 2004. Josephine had a talent claimed by another and Lina worked for reparations. Sounds simple but it certainly isn't as long buried truths correct current injustices.

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