Sunday, January 29, 2017

the help

The Help is a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, later adapted for a movie of the same name, in 2011, with Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, and Emma Stone as Elizabeth 'Skeeter' Phelan. I didn't see the movie, but I do remember the movie doing very well, just as the book did. The Help was one of those books that made it onto many book club reading lists at the time.

Skeeter Phelan and her friends live in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s, and she and all of her white friends have maids and cooks who work for their families, clean their clothes,makes the meals, wash their sheets and take care of their children: the help. The help consists exclusively of black women, who are not allowed to shop in the white supermarket unless they are showing for their white employers, or use the white library, or in some cases use the same toilet as the white employers while they are working in their homes. A divide that is extremely difficult for these dedicated women and their families, but its a system that is so ingrained, that the don't see a way out of it.

In the era of the JFK assassination, and Martin Luther King's speech in Washington, events which slip by in the backdrop of this story of a few families, Skeeter Phelan approaches the maid of one of her friends, Aibileen Clark, and asks her to take a risk and tell her story. The two of them hatch a plot to tell the story of how black housekeepers are treated, and try to publish it anonymously in a book.

This is Stockett's first novel, and I don't think she has followed it up yet, but you can feel the dedication and research that went into this novel. My first impression, after reading a few chapters, is that this type of story seems brave for a white woman to tackle, looking at this era from both a white and a black woman's points of view, but the I realized that its just the same set of feelings in me that keep me from being open minded about who can do what, because what is more important is that its done right; or at least as good is one is able. This book is a great effort to examine the issue.

This book is tense, fun, difficult at times, and helps insure that the story stays alive, and in our thoughts.

Read this book.


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