About this book: (from the publisher) 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.
About the author: (from her website) Barbara was born and brought up in South Africa, the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who settled in the Karoo in the early 1900s. She went to school in Durban and Port Elizabeth and then graduated from Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape during the height of apartheid.
She is married and has two sons. For most of the year the family lives in Surrey near London but spends time whenever possible at their home in the Cape.
In her career, she has consulted for, launched and managed a number of businesses both in South Africa and the UK. Barbara is currently a partner in a management consulting firm.
Barbara loves music and is a gifted pianist like Ada. She is an amateur naturalist with a particular interest in Cape fynbos and birds, as well as being a follower of African politics and history. Barbara is a keen golfer, and with her husband enjoys flying light aircraft.
Why I read this book: The subject, for one–am always interested in stories like these, especially the hopeful ones. My interest was further heightened because I traveled to South Africa last year, and will travel to Ireland this year–both of which play a role in this story.
First impressions: Lovely, evocative cover, and I liked the way its first pages drew me into the story.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG, for its weighty material (rape–not violent and not explicit, but it is what it is; and social violence, again not explicit). Was there a single profanity? If there was, I didn’t catch it. Bravo.
Reminds me of… The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This story matters…as it shows how love can transcend our differences while affirming our hope for racial equality and justice.
My take: A gentle story of love and acceptance, told in languid prose, The Housemaid’s Daughter is a well-imagined look into the birth–and death–of South Africa’s Apartheid. Its vivid descriptions take you there. I experienced a subtle drawing-forward into the story as the character’s lives, and problems, unfolded. Though its characters are not particularly complex, they are clearly drawn, each playing a role in the progression of the story. While I didn’t become as emotionally drawn into it as I would like, it’s nonetheless an enlightening story of a troubled era. If you have an interest in exploring this part of the world and this slice of its history–and if you like tales with heartwarming, enduring friendship beating at its center–you will likely find much appealing here.
[Tweet “Story of love and duty colliding on the arid plains of Apartheid-era South Africa”]
Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: I can still remember that shared feeling of rejoicing when Apartheid ended in 1994–similar to when the Berlin Wall came down a few years before. What other recent world events do you recall where you felt a renewed hope for this weary world of ours?