The House Girl
HarperCollins, 2013 (2013)
Reviewed by Barbara Lingens
wo women, separated by 150 years, try to take control of their lives. Josephine, seventeen years old, a talented artist and slave, knows she must find freedom. Lina, a young lawyer, strives to make sense of the loss of her mother when she was a child.
The House Girl
moves back and forth between these stories without any trouble. Josephine's southern plantation life is perhaps the best described. We feel her closeness to her mistress as well as her determination, despite all the obstacles, to run. Lina's story is a bit more ephemeral. Her professional investigations let us view Josephine in hindsight and bring fullness to the budding young artist's story. It takes a while for us to get behind Lina's personal life, and then when she learns the truth about her past, to understand the choices she makes.
hroughout the novel there is beautiful writing. Conklin manages to find true voices for her characters, whether they are speaking or writing letters. Particularly moving is Caleb's written account of the last part of Josephine's life. Although it is tempting to make the case that Lina's career requirements make her a modern-day slave, that may be pushing things. While Lina's story certainly does bring out important questions about truth and justice, the real focus here, rightfully, is on Josephine.
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