Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review: The Housemaid's Daughter by Barbara Mutch

Title: The Housemaid's Daughter
Author: Barbara Mutch
Source: Amazon Vine
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: December 10, 2013
Reviewed by: Jasmyn

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.

The Housemaid's Daughter flew far beyond any of my expectations.  Set during the heart of apartheid in South Africa, so much happened that I'm not sure how to begin.  Ada, the housemaid's daughter, was born and raised in the white household that her mother worked for - living in a small hut in the back.  As she grew, it was apparent that she was a bright girl, and the Madam of the house, Cathleen, wanted to give her the best opportunites she could.  The Master of the house, Edward, who grew up in South Africa and understood the racial diferences better, would hear none of it - Ada could not go to the best school - blacks just didn't do that sort of thing.  So Cathleen begins to teach Ada herself.  Ada grows up as a part of Cathleen's family alongside Cathleen's son Phil and Rose.

Without giving too much away - we get get to see Ada's journey from a pampered black maid, to an outcast in both black and white society - to being a rallying cry for change.  Cathleen will have many difficult choices to make.  Theirs is a house divided along political and racial lines, with half supporting equality and half thinking the separation is best.  

Watching the struggles South Aftrica saw through this point of view made it a lot more personal.  The love of a family - even if they were not all blood - was all that held this group together at times.  While the story is told from Ada's side, Cathleen takes a very major role and is, at times, the strong character holding it all together.  "Startling and thought-provoking" isn't strong enough to describe the story in these pages.  This is one that will remain on my best of the best shelf, read over and over again through the years.  There are messages in the words that the world still needs to hear today.

*This book was received in exchange for an honest review*

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