Fiction Reviews: Slavery Chronicles | February 2013

Library Journal Reviews starred review Conklin, Tara. The House Girl. Morrow. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780062207395. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062207524. F

Lina Sparrow, the daughter of two moderately successful artists, is a New York attorney. In 2004, she is assigned the career-making job of discovering a living person with American-slave ancestry for a class-action suit seeking reparations for abuse and bondage. Josephine Bell, a 17-year-old house slave in antebellum Virginia in 1852, tends her mistress Lu Anne Bell, a mediocre artist, and dreams of freedom. Conklin switches between the two women’s viewpoints as she slowly reveals the identity of the painter responsible for poignant works representing the people, free and enslaved, of Bell Creek Plantation. VERDICT Simultaneously telling the stories of two women separated in time by 150 years, the author slowly builds a suspenseful and dramatic revelation of their deep connection across the decades. Conklin’s debut is a seamless juxtaposition of past and present, of the lives of two women, and of the redemptive nature of art and the search for truth and justice. Guaranteed to keep readers up long past their bedtimes. [See Prepub Alert, 8/9/12.]—Jane ­Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Wrinkle, Margaret. Wash. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780802120663. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802193780. F

Setting her first novel in the new state of Tennessee during the period between the American Revolution and the Civil War when no one knew how long—or even whether—slavery would continue, filmmaker Wrinkle (broken/ground), approaches historical fiction as a documentarian. She reveals fragments of the life stories of her black, white, and biracial main characters—all somehow wounded—who live either as slaves who may have grown up free or as slaveholders who deny any humanity in those they treat as property. Passages describing out-of-body experiences may not appeal to all, but mystical West African traditions permeate the lives of Washington “Wash” Pallas, Mena, and Rufus, strengthening them and making them spiritually richer than the white men who own their physical bodies, and who even lease Wash out as a stud to neighboring landholders. VERDICT Readers of Jonathan O’Dell’s The Healing or Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Wench will be intrigued by this slowly building story of human beings learning to survive as slaves under ambivalent masters. [See Prepub Alert, 8/9/12.]—Laurie Cavanaugh, Holmes P.L., MA