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.
Read the story behind the book
Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run. She heard the whistle of the blow, felt the sting of skin against skin, her head spun and she was looking back over her right shoulder, down to the fields where the few men Mister had left were working the tobacco. The leaves hung heavy and low on the stalk, ready for picking. She saw a man's bare back and the new hired man, Nathan, staring up at the house, leaning on a rake. The air tasted sweet, the honeysuckle crawling up the porch railings thick now with flower, and the sweetness mixed with the blood in her mouth.
The blow came without warning, no reason that Josephine could say. She had been sweeping the front porch as she always did first thing, clearing off the dust and leaves blown up by the night wind. A snail had marked a trail across the dew-wet wood of the porch floor and rested its brown shell between the two porch rockers....
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).
Full Review (802 words).
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 ...
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