Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Help

Jane Minett - guest reviewer

This blog post is the first written by an invited contributor.   

My friend Jane Minett was telling me how much she enjoyed the book The Help, and I thought "why not have this articulate and thoughtful woman write a review for the blog?"  

Jane loved the book.  She's promised to lend it to me, and I can't wait.  

Here's the review:

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, takes place in Mississippi in the early 1960s when segregation is still the order of the day, and any white family who could afford it hires “help” to attend to the domestic chores -- cooking, cleaning, looking after the children.  The irony is that these “coloured” maids, who looked after the complex running of a household and were trusted with the care of their employer’s precious children, weren’t considered worthy to enter by the front door or to use the family toilet.

The Help is written from the perspective of three remarkable women.  One is white, a young woman just graduated from university, who aspires to be a journalist.   She returns home from school to find her beloved Constantine, the maid who raised her from a baby gone, summarily dismissed by her mother with no explanation or apology.  We see her entering a vacuous world of Junior League meetings, bridge clubs, and small-town gossip.

The other two women are maids, both black. One is a kind, gentle, middle-aged woman; the other is older, wiser, more cynical, and often has trouble remembering “her place”.  We see both the black world and the white world from the perspectives of these “invisible” and previously silent black women.  Everything is pretty much as it’s been since the Thirteenth Amendment freed the slaves.  Or is it? 

Enter the Civil Rights Movement.  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Meredith.  You can feel the tension of the impending collision of the segregated south and the mere idea of civil rights.  So how does that translate to the ordinary everyday lives of the maids and the families they work for in small town Mississippi?

This is a story of maids, an idealistic aspiring journalist, and their friends.  Of hope, of justice, of bravery, and the determination of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

I have heard this book compared to To Kill A Mockingbird.  That’s a fair comparison because The Help also evokes the deep south at a time when something important was about to happen.  You can almost feel the intense humid heat.  It’s also beautifully written with engaging characters and a real sense of place and purpose.  It was hard to put down.

I highly recommend this book.  

1 comment:

Lib Gibson said...

The reference to 'help-only toilets' in this review reminds me of an apartment our family rented in Belgium in the late 80s. It consisted of a huge master bedroom with gigantic ensuite bath, a very small second bedroom which we were told had been the maid's room, a powder room in the hall off the living room, and a toilet on the back balcony!! Whatever could that be for, we asked. Well, if you had a plumber of electrician in to do work, you needed a separate toilet for them. In the 1980s!!!