Monday 7 March 2011

Book review: The Help

I've just finished reading a fantastic book called The Help written by an American author called Kathryn Stockett.

The Help is set in the civil rights era of early 1960s Mississippi and looks at the lives of black maids working in the homes of white families.

The book focuses on 3 main characters. There's Aibleen who's raising her 17th white child, but mourning the death of her only son. Minny who's known throughout the city of Jackson for her brilliant cooking and sharp tongue; and white Miss Skeeter an a aspiring writer who's just returned from college to find that the black maid who raised her has suddenly disappeared and nobody will tell her why.

Going against the cultural norms, Miss Skeeter befriends Aibleen and Minnie and asks them to help her write a book detailing the personal experiences of black maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi.

Bearing in mind that Mississipi was arguably the Deep South's most racist and intolerant state, during the volatile civil rights period. The 3 women take huge personal risks for themselves and their families by writing the book.

When I picked the book up last year in Waterstones, I was immediately intrigued by the subject matter.

The story of racial intolerance and segregation in America's Southern sates is well known. What I find fascinating but also ironic is how so many white families would employ black maids to cook and clean in their homes, raise their children; but at the same time refuse to even allow their black maids to sit at the same table to eat, or use the same toilet in the house.

The Deep South spent 100 years after the end of the American Civil War keeping blacks and whites separate, yet there's such an intimate relationship between these white families and their maids.

The author's own family employed a maid called Demitri who she believed was part of the family. She even admits with some guilt that her family thought they were somehow making her life better.

I found this video clip of the author being interviewd by CBS's Katie Couric. It gives an interesting insight into Kathryn Stockett's motivations for writing the book.

The Help is set during a time that feels both distant but at the same time quite recent, this was another reason why the story appealled to me. You're constantly thinking about how much things have changed in relation to race in America, but yet you also remember how bad things were so recently.

This might be a generalisation, but I find a lot of men don't tend to read books written by women, especially books where all the main characters are women.

To be honest it doesn't bother me. This was excellent story that was well written with characters you felt passionate about.

The book's already been made into a movie which should be coming out later this year, I'm already looking forward to it.

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