“Assured and arresting...You cannot put it down.”” (Chicago Tribune)
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.
Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine . . .
2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.
1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm—an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.
It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.
A descendant of Josephine's would be the perfect face for the lawsuit—if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine's fate following Lu Anne Bell's death in 1852. In piecing together Josephine's story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother's mysterious death twenty years before.
Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and asks whether truth can be more important than justice. Featuring two remarkable, unforgettable heroines, Tara Conklin's The House Girl is riveting and powerful, literary fiction at its very best.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Breathing new life into the weighty subject of antebellum reparations, The House Girl weaves together the stories of two fierce young women. While searching for a lead plaintiff in a potentially historic case, Lina—a lawyer in present-day New York—discovers the story of Josephine Bell, a slave in 1850s Virginia who may have painted several works of considerable value. Equal parts historical fiction and legal drama, Tara Conklin’s debut novel is a literary pageturner with plenty to ponder and discuss—a fantastic pick for a book club.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
An Engaging Read
Tara Conklin’s novel is beautifully written and engages the reader on many levels. I enjoyed the dichotomy of two different time periods and story lines. The section of letters between Kate and Dorothea, while integral to the plot, was slow paced at times and tedious but served in moving the flow of information along. I’ll be interested in other Conklin pieces as she releases them. Well done!
The House Girl
The concept was good. Yet story held parts too unbelievable. Josephines dialogue to Mister and Misses did not correlate with the 1800’s. When I read Mister called for Josephine and she answered “Mister what do you want” I knew the writer could not have been a person of color. Talking to an elder in the South today like that would make cause for trouble. During slavery that would have been the end of this story