Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sixties in the South

The Help takes readers back to the burgeoning civil rights era in Mississippi. It's hard to believe that this is the author's debut novel. It's a wonderful story full of women characters who are drawn so believably that you just cannot accept that they are fictional. Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss to find that her family's maid, Constantine, has disappeared. No one will tell her what happened. Like many well-to-do families in the South, the black maid spent more time raising the children than the parents did, and Skeeter feels a terrible loss in Constantine's absence. She starts to pay more attention to the black maids of her friends and begins seeing the world through their eyes as she tries to find out what happened to Constantine. Gradually she comes to see that the world she inhabits holds some terrible secrets and many injustices. She decides to interview black maids and write a book about their lives. It is a dangerous undertaking in 1962 Mississippi, especially for the black women she talks to, but they bravely decide that their stories need to be told. This is a poignant, fascinating book about this period in history. It does exactly what a great book should do: make you think, see, and feel like someone else entirely outside your own skin.

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