Saturday, March 9, 2013

The House Girl

Title:  The House Girl
Author:  Tara Conklin
Publication Information:  HarperCollins Books. 2013. 372 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on its description.

Favorite Quote:  "Freedom was a curious thing. Were the chickens free, running their fool heads off in the yard? The horse, that still must fit the bit between its teeth? Was Missus free? But what else to dream for? .....  Just to sit for a moment, herself, no one claiming her time or her thoughts or the product of her mind and hands. What other word to call it that if not freedom?"

The House Girl is two parallel stories - two women in two different time periods and two different situations. Yet, their stories belong together in this book. It is 2004, and Lina Sparrow is a young lawyer trying to establish herself in her firm and get on the partner track. She is assigned to a class-action lawsuit that looks to get reparations for families and descendants of American slaves. Her job is to find a lead plaintiff to represent the "class" for the lawsuit - an individual who can be the face of the lawsuit.

In her research, she discovers a controversy in the art world - a claim that the work of renowned Southern artist Lu Anne Bell is actually the work of her house girl - a young slave by the name of Josephine. Lina sets out to discover Josephine's story and hopefully a descendant who could be part of the lawsuit.

The book tells Lina's story and Josephine's story. Lina's story is that of her career, this lawsuit, and of her relationship with her parents - her mother who died when she was a child and her father who himself is an artist and who has never spoken of her mother with Lina. At least not until now. It is a story of the impact of this on Lina and her journey of self-discovery.

Josephine's story is the story of the life of a slave on a plantation in Virginia in 1852. It is the story of the horrors and losses that life entailed. It is the story of a quest for freedom, and all those who either helped or hindered that quest.

A number of convenient - some may say too convenient - coincidences draw the two stories together. However, that did not hinder my enjoyment of the book. The stories are beautifully told, and I found myself feeling for both Lina and Josephine and drawn into both their lives.

A beautiful debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Tara Conklin.

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