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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” law suit that becomes entangled with an art dealer’s contention that Josephine is the true artist and not her widely acclaimed mistress.
The House Girl
Both life in a high powered law firm and life in the slave owning South are presented believably. Lina and Josephine are both sympathetic and well-drawn characters. The story line for both is engaging. While the sub plot involving Lina’s mother is rather thin and too neatly concluded, the artistic element is a link for the two stories.
Book groups will have a variety of subjects to discuss; some very superficial and entertaining and others quite serious and profound. Race relations now and then permeate both stories. The question “Who is Caucasian and who is Black?” may form the body of the discussion. The value of a piece of art and how the artist’s name recognition determines price is another point for discussion. Motherless children and how they and their families cope could form another topic.
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.
Sandra C. (Rensselaer, New York)
The House Girl
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.
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 to many characters in the book, all who could have been developed more.
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.
Sherrie B. (Fishers, IN)
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.
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!