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The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl

by Tara Conklin

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892739,899 (3.73)37



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This is the debut novel for Tara Conklin. It's historical fiction set in two time periods: (1) present day New York City with Attorney Lina who works on a class action case on behalf of the descendants of slaves who were never paid for their work, and (2) mid-1800's Virginia on a failing tobacco plantation where Josephine is a slave house girl. Josephine is artistic and brave and dreams of running away to escape the hard life and abuse she suffers. The chapters switch between the viewpoints of these two protagonists. There are several stories going on making the book too long plus the author writes many detailed descriptions of various settings with information that seems like it's just to make the book longer. There are well-developed characters in Lina and Josephine. I was routing for Josephine to make her escape and for Lina to find the information she needed in all her research to win her case. ( )
  pegmcdaniel | Aug 16, 2017 |
Josephine is a house girl, a slave in 1852 living with the Bells on a dying plantation with a dying mistress, and dreams of running away. In the present day, Lina Sparrow is a young litigation lawyer whose firm is representing a client suing for reparation against big name companies that profited from slavery in the 19th century.

I didn't exactly know what to expect when I picked up this debut historical fiction novel for this month's book club book. I was quickly sucked into both Josephine and Lina's stories. In alternating chapters, the story investigates the nearly unimaginable long-term toll that slavery has taken on an entire nation, while illuminating the lives of these two women with their own heartaches. There is plenty for a book club to discuss, and Conklin's writing has a smooth style that makes for compelling reading. I could have used a little more development of secondary characters such as Lina's boss, her father, and the potential love interest that shows up, but overall I really enjoyed this thought-provoking, challenging read. ( )
  bell7 | May 20, 2017 |
Two overlapping stories - one following a young house slave in Virginia, the other about a lawyer on a case involving retribution to surviving families of slaves which also explored the true identity of of a painter from the 1850s.

This was not one of my favorites of the year.The writing often didn't flow and the story line was at times predictable and sometimes didn't really gel. Yet, I kept reading because there were some interesting moments throughout that made it worthwhile to continue - especially the section written by Caleb near the end. ( )
  njinthesun | Apr 18, 2017 |
I wanted to love this book and just didn't. I would devour the Josephine sections but then the Lina sections just dragged. I simply wasn't a fan of that character or those surrounding her. That part if the storyline was just uninteresting and somewhat irritating. I would say Josephine and Dottie got 4 stars but Lina got a 2 so the book is a 3 overall. ( )
  lynnski723 | Dec 31, 2016 |
The House Girl starts off with an intriguing premise and structure. The chapters and voice alternate between a present-day young female lawyer named Lina, and Josephine, a slave working as "house girl" for the lady of the house. The lawyer is working on a case involving reparations for slavery and must identify someone descended from a slave to serve as lead plaintiff. Josephine's mistress is an artist, and in the present day, the artistic community believes the paintings may actually have done by the slave girl. The potential lead plaintiff emerges during an exhibition of the artist's work, and Lina convinces her law firm to send her to Virginia for research in the state's archives to locate Josephine's descendants. Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, Josephine may or may not have had a baby, and she tries to escape via the Underground Railroad.

While all of this seemed promising at first, ultimately this novel failed to deliver. Josephine's story relied too heavily on supposed historical documents to move the plot along. Lina's story included a subplot about Lina's relationship with her father Oscar, an artist who raised Lina single-handedly after her mother died when Lina was very young. The tension between Lina and Oscar wasn't developed enough to be believable; I never understood why they didn't just sit down and talk things out, and why Lina found his paintings of her mother so offensive. And then there's Lina's full name: Carolina Sparrow. Seriously? It sounds more like a bird than a person, and once that thought struck me I had a hard time getting past it.

I read this for a book club whose members enjoy discussing the dilemmas and decisions that face characters in a novel. And in that respect, I think they will love this book. I tend to focus more on the writing, and the quality of the story, and was left disappointed by The House Girl. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Nov 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
Her understanding of history and instinct for detail make The House Girl a remarkably assured debut.
added by 4leschats | editBookPage, Julie Hale (Nov 1, 2013)
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Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then that she knew she would run.
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Book description
Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine...2004:  Lina Sparrow, the daughter of an artist,  is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparation 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 LuAnne Bell, whose paintings will become the subject of speculation and controversy among future collectors.  Lina's search to find a plaintiff for her case will introduce her to the story of Josephine.  Was she the real talent behind her mistress's now-famous portraits?  It is a question that will take Lina from the corridors of a modern corporate law firm to the sleek galleries of the New York city art world to the crumbling remains of an old plantation house.  Along the way, Lina will unearth long-buried truths about Josephine and about herself...and just maybe achieve long-overdue justice.  (ARC)
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A novel of love, family, and justice follows Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in a Manhattan law firm, as she searches for the "perfect plaintiff" to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.… (more)

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