The House Girl

The House Girl

4.3 252
by Tara Conklin
     
 

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The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia.

Weaving together the story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined junior lawyer, The House Girl follows Lina Sparrow as she looks for an

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Overview

The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia.

Weaving together the story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined junior lawyer, The House Girl follows Lina Sparrow as she looks for an appropriate lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves. In her research, she learns about Lu Anne Bell, a renowned prewar artist whose famous works might have actually been painted by her slave, Josephine.

Featuring two remarkable, unforgettable heroines, Tara Conklin's The House Girl is riveting and powerful, literary fiction at its very best.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lawyer-turned-writer Conklin debuts with a braided novel of two intersecting tales separated by 150 years. In 2004, Lina Sparrow is a first-year associate at a prestigious New York law firm; in 1852, Josephine Bell is the titular "house girl," a slave on a Virginia farm. Assigned to work on a class-action suit involving slavery reparations, Lina searches out a suitable plaintiff for the case, hoping to find a descendant of slaves with an especially compelling story. Lina's father, an artist, suggests that Lina research the story of Josephine, speculated to be the real artist behind paintings attributed to Lu Anne Bell, her white master, and Lina embarks on a search that finds her retracing the footsteps of a runaway slave. The tragedy of Josephine leads Lina deeper into not only Josephine's history but her own, which helps her to make sense of her mother, a woman Lina never knew. Alternating between Lina and Josephine, this novel is unfortunately trite, predictable, and insensitive at its core: the lives of a 19th-century black slave and a 21st-century white lawyer are not simply comparable but mutually revealing, fodder for healing. Striving for affecting revelations, Conklin manages nothing more than unsatisfying platitudes and smugly pat realizations. Agent: Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management.
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Library Journal
First-year law firm associate Lina Sparrow must find someone to serve as the face of a historic class-action lawsuit worth a fortune in reparations for descendants of American slaves. Since it's now suspected that antebellum artist Lu Anne Bell's empathetic depictions of slaves were the work of her house slave, Josephine, Lina is determined to track down one of Josephine's descendants. A big push to book clubs; with a 75,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
Former litigator Conklin's first novel employs the increasingly popular technique of overlapping contemporary and historical fictions--in this case, the lives of a young lawyer defining herself in 21st-century New York and a young slave with secret talents in 19th-century Virginia. In 1852, on a failing Virginia farm, 17-year-old Josephine cares for her dying mistress, Lu Anne Bell, while plotting her escape. Childless Lu Anne has always had a complicated relationship with the bright, naturally gifted Josephine; Lu Anne taught the girl to read and to paint but failed to protect Josephine from husband Robert Bell's rape when Josephine was barely 14. Now, Lu Anne tells Josephine a terrible secret before she dies. Cut to 2004. Lu Anne's art is highly prized as the work of a protofeminist artist sensitive to the plight of slaves. But while researching a case concerning reparations to slave descendants, Lina Sparrow, a white first-year lawyer in a cutthroat Manhattan firm, discovers that a controversy is brewing in the art world: Some art critics wonder if paintings attributed to Lu Anne were really completed by Josephine. At a gallery showing of Lu Anne/Josephine's work, Lina meets a young musician who claims to own several of the paintings. Hoping to prove he is Josephine's descendant, although he appears to be Caucasian, Lina sets out to uncover Josephine's history. Art and identity matter to Lina. Raised by her artist father, Oscar, she longs to know more about her long-dead mother, Grace, especially now that Oscar has painted a provocative series of portraits of Grace. As the focus shifts back and forth between the centuries, Josephine evolves into a wonderfully fresh character whose survival instinct competes with her capacity for love as she tries to reach freedom. But while Conklin clearly knows her way around the legal world, her lawyer, Lina, comes across more as a sketch than a portrait, and the choices she makes are boringly predictable. Provocative issues of race and gender intertwine in earnest if uneven issues-oriented fiction.
Chicago Tribune
“Assured and arresting...You cannot put it down.””
Minneapolis Star Tribune
It’s shelved under historical fiction, but THE HOUSE GIRL reads more like a historical whodunit, and a smart one at that . . . Both Josephine and Lina are intricately drawn characters — fierce, flawed and very real.”
Entertainment Weekly
“[G]rabs you by the bonnet strings and starts running.”
Marie Claire
“This will be the book-club book of 2013.”
Seattle Times
“Conklin ... is a skilled writer ... who knows how to craft a thoughtful page-turner ...We’re glued to the pages.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A sorrowful, engrossing novel in which the pursuit of justice serves as a catalyst to a more personal pursuit for truth . . . Through Josephine and Lina’s journeys, THE HOUSE GIRL is also a meditation on motherhood, feminism, loss, and, ultimately, redemption.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Conklin’s research blends subtly into the background while successfully rendering a picture of the complex tensions inherent in 1850s society...A historical novel that succeeds in giving voice to the voiceless.”
Shelf Awareness
“Skillfully executed and packed with surprises, this novel of the ways in which art saves our humanity is an engrossing do-not-miss adventure.”
Ebony
“Riveting.”
BookPage
“Luminous . . . The rare novel that seamlessly toggles between centuries and characters and remains consistently gripping throughout . . . Powerful.”
Washington Post
“Infused with ominous atmosphere and evocative detail...a dramatic montage of narrative and personal testimonies that depicts the grotesque routines of the slave trade, the deadly risks of hte Underground Railroad and the impossible choices that slaves and abolitionists faced.”
Booklist
“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.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Rich and surprising...will make hearts ache yet again for those who suffered through slavery as well as cheer for those—Conklin and Lina—who illuminate their stories.”
Maria Semple
“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.”
Laurie Frankel
“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.”
Hillary Jordan
“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.”
Margot Livesey
“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.”
Corban Addison
“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.”
Amy Greene
“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.”
Bookreporter.com
“A thoughtful work of fiction about freedom, love, and the continued price for former slaves with modern descendants. Conklin creates a convincing case of an unrecognized injustice with a novel that is both legalistic and artistic...A story of personal and national identity that you won’t want to miss.”
Essence
“Exquisite...Conklin takes us down a curious rabbit hole that drops us before a looking glass of uncomfortable truths about race, power, art, family, law and ethics...One of those books in which there’s not one, two or three, but about ten good parts you’ll want to read and reread.”
Daily News
“Absorbing...[Conklin] buttresses her legal savvy with strong historical research. She also has a fine way with a story.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062207395
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/12/2013
Pages:
372
Sales rank:
933,611
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Tara Conklin has worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a corporate law firm but now devotes her time to writing fiction. She received a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Born in St. Croix, she grew up in Massachusetts and now lives with her family in Seattle, Washington. The House Girl is her first novel.

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