“Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run.”Thus began the novel.
The House Girl is about a slave, Josephine, a house girl for Miss Lu Anne Bell. Miss Lu taught Josephine to read and to paint. They would sometimes paint together. Josephine had tried to escape a couple of years earlier and had been turned away at the safe house because she was nine months pregnant. So she had been biding her time, waiting for the time she felt she could run away. After her master hit her for absolutely no reason, she knew it was time to go. The story started in 1852.
The book alternates between 1852 and 2004. In 2004, attorney Lina Sparrow worked for a New York law firm and was offered the chance to work on a class action suit seeking reparations for the descendants of slaves. In order to present a solid case, Lina was expected to produce a living descendant of a slave. Lina lived with her father, Oscar Sparrow, a fairly well-renowned artist, who told Lina about an art show that was about to open that was featuring the work of Lu Anne Bell, an artist who had lived on a failing tobacco plantation before the Civil War. The show was examining whether Lu Anne had actually created the featured paintings, or if they were in fact, the work of her house girl, Josephine. Oscar suggested to Lina that perhaps a descendant of Josephine could be found for the law suit.
The novel is told in alternating chapters between Josephine and Lina. Both of the women's stories are fascinating, and in different ways, share some similarities in the sense of identities, families, etc.
The novel seemed very well researched to me, and, as a genealogist, I was quite pleased by that. But even more importantly, the novel was well-written, hard-to-put-down and really, what more could a reader want in a book? It was a great read!