The House Girl | Book Review

Author, Tara ConklinPaperback, 400 pages
Published, November 5th, 2013
Publisher, William Morrow Paperbacks

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.  

This book had been on my reading list since before it came out.  The description of the book reminded me of The Kitchen House and I always enjoy books from this time period.  I was lucky to see it available at my local used book store.  With my book credit and their great prices, I only paid $3.50 and that is something I can always appreciate. This book is written in a structure that I really like.  It has alternating chapters telling the story of Lina in the present time and Josephine in the 1850's.  It is also beautifully written and there seemed to be little fluff.  Everything is relevant and important pieces to the story.  Lina.  I grew to like Lina.  She is a young lawyer working for a cut throat firm.  Everything is about the win and the money.  Mostly cases involving business and not overly people related.  When the reparations case falls in her hands, she is a little surprised that it is something the firm agreed to work on.  Lina's father is an artist, as was her mother, and her mother has been gone since she was 4.  Lina has a lot of questions about her mother's death and her father is finally ready to talk to her about, twenty years later.  Josephine.  You can't help but love Josephine.  She is a slave and works as a house girl.  She is bright and pretty and has known no other life than that at Bell Creek.  She has an interesting relationship with her Missus.  Although she is a slave and being kept there as property, the Missus defies the law and teaches her to read and write.  She has her basic needs met and sleeps in the attic of the main house, not the slave quarters.  The two stories melt wonderfully into each other.  The mystery of finding out who created the paintings is interesting to follow.  And the idea of being able to prove the ancestry of a slave is amazing.  The story also gets you thinking about a time period in our history that people seem to want to forget.  It also makes you consider what is owed to the descendants of the slaves.  One of my favorite quotes, "Two hundred and fifty years of nameless, faceless, forgotten individuals.  Yes, they were America's founding fathers and mothers as mush as the bewigged white men who laid the whip upon their backs". Overall - I loved this book.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes Historical Romance, Historical Fiction, and books that make you think a little deeper into history.     


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