Book Clubs Historical Fiction
“Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.” It is this sentence that pulled me in and the moment I suspected that what lay ahead in the next 369 unread pages would be nothing short of an adventure.
The House Girl is an unforgettable tale that intertwines the story of Josephine Bell,a house slave in antebellum Virginia and Lina Sparrow,a modern day New York City lawyer assigned to find the perfect plaintiff for a reparations lawsuit. 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. But that’s only half of the story!
Told through alternating voices,The House Girl is a novel richly layered with history,art,love and secrets; and begs the reader to explore moral questions such as what it means to repair a wrong,and whether truth can be more important than justice. Marie Claire raves,“This will be the book-club book of 2013!”—and we agree.
Find out what all of the buzz is about. Click here to read an excerpt and download the reading group guide to share with your book club.
New York Times bestselling author Maria Semple (Where’d You Go,Bernadette) sat down to chat with Tara about discovering Josephine’s voice and how her upbringing in both St.Croix and Massachusetts inspired her writing.
Maria Semple: Tara,huge congratulations on THE HOUSE GIRL. How did this novel come into being?
Tara Conklin: Thanks,Maria. The novel began as a short story that I wrote about six years ago. I came across the term “slave doctor” in a book I was reading and the words made me stop. I became curious as to why a person dedicated to healing would take on such a role. From that initial spark of curiosity,I wrote a short story about a slave doctor,Caleb Harper,and two women appeared in his story. I say “appeared” because that’s really how it seemed to happen – Josephine and Dorothea just showed up and demanded my attention. I couldn’t stop wondering about these two characters and so I started writing separate stories about them,and I just kept writing.
MS: Josephine,a house slave in 1852 Virginia,became one of your narrators. The other,Lina,is a lawyer in present day New York. You practiced law before you became a novelist. Did Lina’s voice come easily by comparison?
TC: No,I actually found Lina’s sections tougher to get right. I think because Lina’s external world is more similar to mine,it was more difficult to imagine her – I kept bumping up against my own experience.
MS: That’s so surprising,that Josephine was the easier voice to get right.
TC: Josephine came to me very organically – I felt that I knew who she was and what she wanted early on in the writing. Her character was inspired by two people: one was an African-American artist named Mary Bell and the other was a former slave,Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman,who lived in my hometown during the 18th century. Mumbet said that if she could have one minute of freedom,only to die afterwards,she would make the trade. That strength of purpose helped me understand Josephine.
MS: While she's not a narrator,the character of Lu Anne Bell looms large over the story. She's quite mysterious and wonderful. I'm curious if she,too,is partly based on a real person.
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DaVinci? What's the buzz?2005-03-10 13:43:18 by frederickosb
"The greatest sin for an artiste is to bore his audience" - Anonymous
I usually don't go in for all the latest fads or trendy moves in the shifting sands of pop culture, but every once and awhile something comes up that forces me to take note. An example of that is this "DaVinci Code" hubbub. I wanted to ignore it, but it keeps poping up on this forum - either directly or indirectly. So I decided to go into Borders Bookstore on my way home today and take a look.
I wandered over to the Spiritual section of the store, but could not find it there. It wasn't next to the Gnostic Gospels or with the Inspirational books
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