The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368 (ARC)
Source: Publisher through TLC Book Tours
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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
Lina is on partner track at a prestigious law firm when she is placed on a big project for a very special client. Her personal and professional lives merge when she first hears about Josephine Bell, a slave that might have been the true artist of paintings previously attributed to her white plantation owner. Already familiar with the art world, dives into the mystery involving the long ago events. While investigating Josephine and her descendants, Lina stumbles upon a personal issue that rocks her world.
The chapters of this book alternate between Josephine and Lina's point of view. At times we get to see through other characters but it is primarily Josephine and Lina telling the story. This format worked because the titles were clear at the beginning of each chapter and the stories are quite separate. They could have been separate books. I am grateful that this wasn't a depressing read. It can be uncomfortable reading about certain issues but this one doesn't focus on the physical cruelty of slavery, but instead focuses on the issue of identity and the fact that the harm of slavery goes much further than manual labor and punishments. Friends and I have previously discussed this issue and I was quite satisfied with how well it was done here. I wasn't quite connected to Josephine Bell but I felt moderately connected to Lina. I was enthralled with this book from beginning to end. The writing is great. Though it is connected to a tough subject, Ms. Conklin does a great job weaving a story that is much bigger than the idea of slavery.
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