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The House Girl

The House Girl

4.3 258
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


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

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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Library Journal
Lina Sparrow, the daughter of two moderately successful artists, is a New York attorney. In 2004, she is assigned the career-making job of discovering a living person with American-slave ancestry for a class-action suit seeking reparations for abuse and bondage. Josephine Bell, a 17-year-old house slave in antebellum Virginia in 1852, tends her mistress Lu Anne Bell, a mediocre artist, and dreams of freedom. Conklin switches between the two women's viewpoints as she slowly reveals the identity of the painter responsible for poignant works representing the people, free and enslaved, of Bell Creek Plantation. VERDICT Simultaneously telling the stories of two women separated in time by 150 years, the author slowly builds a suspenseful and dramatic revelation of their deep connection across the decades. Conklin's debut is 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. [See Prepub Alert, 8/9/12.]—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(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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The House Girl 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 258 reviews.
SilversReviews More than 1 year ago
From 1852 to 2004....from one artist to another....from a farm in Virginia to the hustle and bustle of New York City. 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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adored this book. It reads flawlessly. While I was incensed at the appalling abuse and torture visited upon African Americans in the south, the rich story of the book is ultimately hopeful. This is a story I won't soon forget.
jp_reader More than 1 year ago
Outstanding! Totally engrossing, lyrical, and full of heart. Read this beautiful story! Ms. Conklin, please give us another!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story about 2 women separated by time. Josephine a young slave at the center of the story and Lina the lawyer who searches for and finds her. Along the way Lina discovers herself as well as a mother she barely recalls. I think that in reading this each of us will come away with a different idea of what it was about. Be it giving justice to Josephine or helping Lina finding herself and her true path. Then again it may be a story about the two mother figures who were so much a part of the lives of Lina and Josephine one with her presence and the other due to the lack of it. Which shaped who each of them would become. Either way, this was in my estimation worth reading, and I would recommend it highly.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Two parallel stories run through this book and are interconnected in many ways, some obvious and some a little more symbolic - Josephine Bell is a slave living in the home on Bell Creek Farm while Lina Sparrow is living in her childhood home with her artist father and working her way up the ladder as a corporate lawyer.  Lina's firm has taken on a case that could set precedent if given a landmark decision to acknowledge the value slaves added to corporations and to compensate them for their lack of income while enslaved to the ancestors of these corporate moguls.  Josephine Bell and her possible heirs could be Lina's ticket for winning this controversial case, if she can find all the details of the past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A novel I will never forget and one I am sure I will talk about until people are tired of hearing me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just finished this book and it was a great read. The history parallels spanning different times was interesting as was the subject matter. I recommend it to all.
compassionateskintherapy More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book to anyone. I cried for her, and applaud the courage of the house girl. I have always been drawn to novels about the appalling way slaves were treated, and this was one of the best.
ElizabethMerrick More than 1 year ago
A beautiful, multi-faceted story which transcends time and connects the character and the reader in ways which leave the reader thinking about long after the book is finished. To the author, please keep writing!
jpcoggins More than 1 year ago
A really good read!  I highly recommend this book, especially to those who love historical fiction.  I was surprised at the depth of this story, and the multiple  narratives that round it out.  You will find yourself rooting for all the characters; everyone was a victim of the crime of slavery.  The House Girl raises great questions of how much was the work of slaves worth; how much were their lives worth?  Why didn't anyone write down their stories, their dreams?  And how does anyone live without hope?  This is a different look at the Underground Railroad.  The history in this novel is pre-Civil War.  The danger, the threat feels real, heavy and constant.  I am so glad I read this book!
ritef More than 1 year ago
Ending was a little disappointing.
cherryred More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!!! The flow between the present day and the slave days went well and was an easy transition. The author did a good job story telling!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a good book. I was not thrilled with the ending
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent read. Strong and compelling characters. Interesting storyline. Set in pre Civil War era. Interesting contrast using a "current " day character story and main slave character. Certainly raised issues on how individuals could have "owned" others and the treatment of those individuals as property. I plan to recommend this for book club. I had not read other books by this author but will certainly look for others in future
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author had a good idea for a story, but unfortunately it was to jumbled, going off in to many directions to be an enjoyable read.
bunnygirlJK More than 1 year ago
Really, just an amazing book.  I couldn't put it down, the writing was great, and everything was wrapped up in the end!  I look forward to more of her books in the future!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked it very much because the characters were so compelling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved every second of it. My only wish is that more was revealed about the characters and their future relationships
kherbrand More than 1 year ago
Where to start. . .   I did enjoy this novel very much - especially the sections that pertained to Josephine.  I really liked her character and was moved by her story.  She was a slave, but had been chosen as a house girl for LuAnne Bell.  Her life was seemingly full of contradictions.  Even though she was a slave, she lived a different life as a house girl, even getting to paint and express herself.  Though the credit for her much of her work was given to LuAnne, I am not sure she was looking for credit for her work - she was looking for a new life. Lina, on the other hand, seemed, if not content with her life, at least in a place that she wasn't ready to "stir the pot".  She still lived with her father, and yet was an associate in a big law firm.  Her mother had been killed when she was just a little girl, and I think this was part of the reason that she still lived with her father.  It was in that house that she could remember what little she did about her mother.  There was a mystery surrounding her death because her father never really wanted to talk about it with her - so being so young when she died - she didn't really know what happened. As she starts to research Josephine's life and to see her struggles, a series of events in her own life seem to awaken her need for a change as well. I think it was learning about Josephine, and how she never gave up to be free makes her realize she has just been drifting along in her own life - waiting for something to happen rather than going out and finding it.  She starts to see the people in her father's (and mother's previous) life in a new light.  Questioning what she thought to be the truth, forces a confrontation with her father that was far too long in happening.   Filled with interesting characters, to me, this book explores how relationships with family and others, have an influence on our lives and the choices that we make. Would Josephine have done the same things had she not been a house girl?  Would her life have been different is she would not have been close to Lu Anne Bell?  And Lina,  if her father would have shared things about her mother when she was younger, how would that have influenced Lina's choices in life, and would her father have been able to let things go earlier than he did?  I think this book would be a great choice for a book club read as there are so many things you could discuss and explore.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Art, law, slavery, and identity all collide in this book, which I found to be unexpectedly enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the house girl. The whole story played with your emotions. Highly sudggest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read---literally a page turner. Full of history and enough suspense to keep you hooked! Would love to read another in the same footprints!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great in every way! Loved it. Oprah should consider it for her book club!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So many stories, over a such a large span of time, intricately woven to become one. How could I put it down? Each story yet similar. This book is a well written book by a true wordsmith.