The issue of African-Americans, as the descendants of slaves, being owed reparations from the United State government for our hundreds of years of free labor has been an ongoing discussion in some circles of this country for years. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, I find the topic intriguing. Therefore, when I came across the book “The House Girl” by Tara Conklin and realized that part of the story line revolves around this issue, I picked it up immediately.
The House Girl is Tara Conklin’s first novel and is a New York Times Best Seller. It is the story of Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer working in a prestigious New York law firm, who is handed the case of a life-time. The firm has decided to take on a reparations law suit for the descendants of American slaves, which could result in a trillion-dollar settlement. Lina’s job is to find someone who can represent the “face” of the lawsuit, a descendant or a family with direct ties to slavery. In doing so, Lina discovers the story of a slave named Josephine, who at age 17 lived as a house girl taking care of her mistress named Lu Anne Bell on a Virginia plantation in 1852. Josephine wanted to be free and was planning her escape when she was brought in to take care of Miss Lu Anne, an aspiring artist. The resulting relationship between these two women was at times that of a slave and her mistress, but at other times of a mother and her daughter with the mistress even encouraging Josephine’s artistic talent.
As Lina digs deeper into the story, she discovers that many of the paintings rumored to be the work of the late Lu Anne Bell (now a well known and revered artist) may actually be the work of Josephine, only furthering her case for reparations. It is while following the runaway slave’s trail that Lina starts to wonder about her own family history and tries to find answers to her own family secrets concerning her mother’s death. The author moves between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York while weaving these two women’s stories into one tale of secrets, discovery, love and righting a wrong. It’s a piece of historical fiction that is definitely a good read and a great effort by a first time novelist. This book is for a mature reader, high-school and above.