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The House Girl

A Novel

Conklin, Tara

(Book - 2013)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
The House Girl
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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 per-fect 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.
Publisher: New York : William Morrow Paperbacks, 2013.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780062207395
Characteristics: 372 p. ;,24 cm.

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Comment by: APlazek Oct 03, 2013

Carolina (Lina) Sparrow is a very ambitious young lawyer who is driven to achieve. She is thrilled when asked to take part in a lawsuit seeking reparations for descendents of slaves because she knows this could be just what her career needs.

Told in alternating voices with that of Jospehine B... Read More »


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NYPL Staff Pick
Lena Sparrow, a lawyer in contemporary New York, finds secrets and questions in the art world and her family when she searches for a descendant of a pre-Civil War runaway slave.
- Selection Team

This book alternates between a tale of an antebellum south slave girl, the underground rail road and Dorthea Round (real person- activist with underground railroad) and Lina a fictional lawyer in modern day America who is working on a case for reparations for the descendants of American slaves. It is a fascinating book which intertwines the stories of many remarkable and not so remarkable people during a notorious period of our past. Very readable.

"This debut novel offers the stories of two women - ambitious Lina Sparrow, a first-year law associate in Manhattan, and Josephine Bell, a house slave in pre-Civil War Virginia. Lina is looking for a poster-child plaintiff for a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the descendants of slaves, and that search brings her attention to Josephine, who may have been the real artist behind paintings attributed to her mistress. With a focus that shifts effortlessly between the 21st and 19th centuries, The House Girl is "assured and arresting" (Chicago Tribune)." Fiction A to Z January 2014 newsletter http://www.libraryaware.com/996/NewsletterIssues/ViewIssue/08d5616c-a421-41b2-9f98-6535d3775ee7?postId=a9ff8cf2-4c1b-4150-af29-533cdefdcca0

Kim Vara recommended July 2013

Oct 03, 2013
  • APlazek rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Carolina (Lina) Sparrow is a very ambitious young lawyer who is driven to achieve. She is thrilled when asked to take part in a lawsuit seeking reparations for descendents of slaves because she knows this could be just what her career needs.

Told in alternating voices with that of Jospehine Bell who was the house girl for LuAnne Bell, known as a southern artist it is revealed that Josephine in fact was the better artist.

Art historians have recently determined that they believe the LuAnn Bell paintings were actually done by her house girl and Lina is determined to track down one of her descendents to be the face of the case.

Part mystery, part history it is a well written first novel.

Sep 09, 2013
  • Bearwomyn rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

The root of this book is based on the beginnings of an American Reparations lawsuit being filed. From there the leaves of the story unfold. If you require your litigious tales to reflect reality and authority, like author John Grisham, with accuracy - this book is NOT for you. Comparatively the legalese of this author was written in crayon. This suit would purportedly be historically monumental, possibly with rewards in the trillions of dollars and would impact the nations entire view of responsibility to generations of family members of slaves...yet, the research done by the lawyers in this book was done in a matter of a few weeks and the brief was written in 4 days. Utterly ridiculous. Fortunately a very small portion of the book was used on the actual litigation preparation. Phew. If you can get past this, just suspend your legal reality momentarily you may, as I did, enjoy the bigger picture.

What I very much liked about this story in particular was the slant that the case took...When seeking reparations we often hear story of the downtrodden generations, of loss of land and property, abject poverty, homeless generation, drugs etc. This authors spin was unique in that it was in defense of a slave girl and (her families rights) to intellectual property in the form of ART. Very interesting - the hook that kept me turning pages. The story flops from an 1800s Southern Tobacco Plantation, to this century NYC - every other chapter. The slave girl, Josephine Bell was raised on the Bell plantation, as an 'almost daughter' of the lady of the house. She was in a unique situation, as a beloved house girl, in that her mistress taught her to read, did not physically abuse her and let her paint with oils and sketch with charcoals on easels alongside herself in her studio. Regrettably she was raped by her master and of course becomes pregnant. There is a journey about her mysterious birth...her desire to run...her passion for the beauty of the world and her innate instinct toward freedom. Josephine had my attention. The current day lawyer, Lina Sparrow, is freshly out of school, striving to make a difference, seeking to be a legal partner and willing to pay her dues. She had my attention as well. Lina reaches her cotton-gloved hand through the decades to find and reconstruct the missing pieces of Josphine's legacy. (There are a few side stories which I did not need...Lina's potential new love, Lina's eccentric artist father, the perplexing death of her mother...there may be some deeper level moral ties in here somewhere, but if so, it was lost on me.) We have cut heels, sterile board rooms, Lottie, mothers lost, mothers sold, psudeomothers inherited, birth, death, blood, grief, joy. Running. The Blue Ridge mountains, men on horses, men in shackles, men in french cuffs. A spindly tale in parts and brilliant in others. Overall a very good read. Caused reflection.

The stories about two women- a slave girl in the 1840's in the Southern States and a young dynamic lawyer in contemporary New York City. Their stories intertwine in a somewhat contrived way, but an enjoyable read, providing insight into the life of a young determined lawyer, counting every hour and partial hour for billing purposes and an artistic slave girl, determined to escape.

Just fair. Not well written even tho the story had potential.

May 04, 2013
  • GLNovak rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This was a very readable book. The story is told in alternating chapters - first Josephine the house girl in 1852 and then Lina the lawyer in 2013. They are connected by an unlikely proposed legal case for reparations for slavery. This story overlays the theme of connectedness, to know one's parents, one's ancestors. The writer does not dwell much on description or judgment. She relates the two women's thoughts and deliberations, and intertwines them with correspondence found in archives. I think the spareness of the writing drew me in and helped me flesh out in my own mind the two women, and brought me to understand the forces that drove them to the decisions they made.

Apr 23, 2013
  • cm510 rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

A very good story by a new author. It did drag just a little, but likeable characters and a believeable,mysterious plot.

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