Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: The Housemaid's Daughter

The Housemaid's DaughterAuthor: Barbara Mutch
Publication Date: December 10, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Barbara Mutch's stunning first novel tells a story of love and duty colliding on the arid plains of Apartheid-era South Africa

When Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa, she knows that she does not love the man she is to marry there —her fiance Edward, whom she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a small town in the harsh Karoo desert, her only real companions are her diary and her housemaid, and later the housemaid's daughter, Ada. When Ada is born, Cathleen recognizes in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own family.Under Cathleen’s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. As they grow closer, Ada sees new possibilities in front of her—a new horizon. But in one night, everything changes, and Cathleen comes home from a trip to find that Ada has disappeared, scorned by her own community. Cathleen must make a choice: should she conform to society, or search for the girl who has become closer to her than her own daughter?

Set against the backdrop of a beautiful, yet divided land, The Housemaid's Daughter is a startling and thought-provoking novel that intricately portrays the drama and heartbreak of two women who rise above cruelty to find love, hope, and redemption.

It seemed to me that this might be the worst thing about war: that friends could be enemies-in-waiting.

And I would feel the tune rise in my hands and join her in the tumbling cascade down the piano.

So I embrace this new life, and these new people.
Soon, I hope, we will no longer be strangers to one another.

I was very intrigued and interested to read this book, but I had no idea that it would amaze me as much as it did. I read a book back in April that was set in South Africa, and I was fascinated by the culture and setting. This story takes place during apartheid and of Ada and her mother, servants in the Craddock household. The Madam, woman of the house that Ada serves under, takes Ada under her wing and treats her as an equal. She even takes a great interest in the young girl and teaches her to read and play the piano when the local school turns her away. After Ada’s mother passes away and the Madam leaves for quite some time, Ada is approached by the master of the home. Ada and her mother face great turmoil and awful situations while living and serving in this home. This book is not for the faint of heart; it brings a sincere, strong message with it.

This book reminds me greatly of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Barbara Mutch is a wonderful storyteller and pays great attention to detail. The story is reminiscent of The Help, but has qualities that set it aside and make it all the more unique. The situations that the characters face are different but can be compared in several ways. If you enjoyed Stockett’s book, then this will be one that you will not want to miss either. The racial discriminations and prejudices are just as strong and prevalent in this book. The issues are real and are explored in a realistic way.

This book is a work of fiction but many of the incidents and issues raised within its pages are things that really occurred and to more than one young girl, person, or family. The time was well-written and appeared to be very realistic. I did not live during apartheid but I know the extent of its despair and I believe that Mutch portrayed that very well. The places that are depicted in this book are very real and I found parts of it to be very educational. The characters just added to the times and culture; they made it seem all the more real.

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