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.
Marjorie-Florida, December 5, 2012 (view all comments by Marjorie-Florida)
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.
I received a review copy of this novel through Book Browse's First Impressions program in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinion or views therein.
William Morrow & Company -
by Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke,
"The House Girl is an enthralling story of identity and social justice told through the eyes of two indomitable women, one a slave and the other a modern-day attorney, determined to define themselves on their own terms."
by Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy,
"There's so much to admire in The House Girl — two richly imagined heroines, two fully realized worlds, a deeply satisfying plot — but what made me stand up and cheer was the moral complexity of these characters and the situations they face. I'm grateful for this transporting novel."
by Corban Addison, author of A Walk Across the Sun,
"The House Girl stands as both a literary memorial to the hundreds of thousands of slaves once exploited in the American South and a mellifluous meditation on the mysterious bonds of family, the hopes and sorrows of human existence, and the timeless quest for freedom."
by Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot,
"Tara Conklin's powerful debut novel is a literary page-turner filled with history, lost love, and buried family secrets. Conklin masterfully interweaves the stories of two women across time, all while asking us to contemplate the nature of truth and justice in America."
by Laurie Frankel, author of Goodbye for Now and The Atlas of Love,
"The House Girl is a heartbreaking, heartwarming novel, ambitious, beautifully told, and elegantly crafted. Tara Conklin negotiates great vast swaths of time and tribulation, character and place, with grace, insight, and, simply, love."
by Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette,
"Tara Conklin's wise, stirring and assured debut tells the story of two extraordinary women, living a century apart, but joined by their ferocity of spirit. From page one, I fell under the spell of The House Girl's sensuous prose and was frantically turning pages until its thrilling conclusion."
"Conklin persuasively intertwines the stories of two women separated by time and circumstances but united by a quest for justice....Stretching back and forth across time and geography, this riveting tale is bolstered by some powerful universal truths."
"Luminous....The rare novel that seamlessly toggles between centuries and characters and remains consistently gripping throughout....Powerful."
by Library Journal (starred review),
"A seamless juxtaposition of past and present, of the lives of two women, and of the redemptive nature of art and the search for truth and justice. Guaranteed to keep readers up long past their bedtimes."
by Harper Collins,
Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine...
2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.
1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm — an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.
It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.
A descendant of Josephine's would be the perfect face for the lawsuit — if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine's fate following Lu Anne Bell's death in 1852. In piecing together Josephine's story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother's mysterious death twenty years before.
Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and asks whether truth can be more important than justice.
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