By Tara Conklin
William Morrow, $25.99, 372 pages,
The House Girl takes the reader on a journey between Josephine, a slave in 1852 Virginia. and Lina, a lawyer in 2004 New York City. Each chapter alternates between Josephine and Lina. Josephine, a house slave, longs for freedom and attempts to escape twice. Her Missus, LuAnne Bell, taught her how to read, as well as, paint. LuAnne tells the world that the paintings are her own, rather than Josephine’s work. Lina is a young lawyer striving for partnership by the age of 30 and lives with her artist father, Oscar. Lina’s mother died when Lina was four, but a mystery remains that Oscar refuses to discuss. When Lina is presented with a repatriations case that involves the descendants of Josephine, Lina becomes embroiled in the history of slavery and the clues to what ultimately happened to Josephine. At the same time, Lina discovers secrets from her parents’ past which sheds new light on her future.
“Don’t send me back, she said again, and those words charged the distance between us, the space seeming to wave and pulse, waiting for my answer.”
The House Girl is absorbing and beautifully written. Tara Conklin’s descriptive prose will convince the reader that he is present in antebellum Virginia. Conklin makes slavery come alive on her pages; the reader will believe in the fear for life and the thirst for freedom. This is a book you will not want to put down.
Reviewed by Seniye Groff