Tara ConklinThe House Girl

William Morrow, 2013

by C. P. Lesley on May 16, 2014

Tara Conklin

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Lina Sparrow can’t believe her luck when the boss at her fancy New York law firm offers her a once-in-a-lifetime chance: find a suitable plaintiff for a class-action suit to be lodged against the U.S. government and fifty rich corporations that profited from slave labor before the Civil War. The wealthy technocrat intent on pushing this suit for reparations claims he has a deal that will protect Lina’s law firm from going head to head against the government, and the case seems guaranteed to generate lots of publicity and a lovely bag of cash for the law firm. But the pressure is on: Lina has only a few weeks to find the right person and convince him or her to play along. 

Luck again appears to favor her when a friend of her artist father alerts her to a recent controversy surrounding the paintings of Luanne Bell, a plantation lady from the 1850s whose art portrays her slave laborers with extraordinary complexity and compassion. Are the paintings Luanne’s, or the work of her house girl Josephine? And if Lina can prove that Luanne has received credit for Josephine’s work for the last century and a half, can she also find a descendant who can serve as living evidence of the devastating damage inflicted by slavery?

The House Girl moves deftly back and forth between past and present as Lina works to trace the history of one young girl enslaved on a Virginia tobacco plantation while fending off challenges posed by her coworkers, the man who may be Josephine’s descendant, and even her own past. Tara Conklin’s debut novel hit the bestseller lists within weeks of its release. You’ll have no trouble figuring out why.

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