Tara Conklin: A Slavery Novel with No Slaves

So, I’ve eyed The House Girl by Tara Conklin for my TBR list for sometime now. Tell me that a modern novel takes place on a plantation or involves slavery as a theme and color me interested. Well, I was lucky enough to receive an email on whether I wanted to receive an advanced copy of Conklin’s work sometime ago—but unfortunately this offer wasn’t available in ebook format.

Tara Conklin discusses her new fiction work in a recent NPR Books interview (actually the same episode as Sampson Davis–see previous post), but there’s one portion of the conversation that raised an eyebrow for me. When asked whether Conklin was “worried about writing a novel about slavery with mostly white characters” (as heroes even), she states:

You know, to be honest, I didn’t [worry]. First of all, I didn’t because I never thought anyone was going to read it. I mean, I literally wrote this in my pajamas in my bed late at night, so the idea of anyone having a reaction to it was not something that really crossed my mind until much, much, much later. And, I mean, to me the heart and soul of the novel is Josephine, and she was the character that I sort of fell in love with from the very beginning. She was the character that I had dreams about, and that I really worked the hardest to get right in the book, so I guess I never felt that it was more about the white characters. I really think Josephine is the driver in the novel … everyone sort of revolves around her. 

The author replies that she hadn’t even thought about it. Wow. Yeah. What a world we live in. A slavery novel with no slaves. Just kidding, we don’t need too much blackness in a slavery novel anyway. Okay, just one or two black characters should do. Again, I kid. View the book summary:

The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia. Weaving together the story of an escaped slave in the pre–Civil War South and a determined junior lawyer, The House Girl follows Lina Sparrow as she looks for an appropriate lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking compensation for families of slaves. In her research, she learns about Lu Anne Bell, a renowned prewar artist whose famous works might have actually been painted by her slave, Josephine.(Read an excerpt from the novel)

Happy reading, y’all.

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