I had bought this book from the library the day I spotted it on the shelves. Yet, it had been sitting on my shelves for quite a time before I picked up to read. Why? I was wary. It has happened quite many times that a book that has been winning rave reviews failed to make a strong impact on me. I have had the feeling of being on the wrong side so many times that I was darn skeptic to read it. But, I am proved so wrong. I really loved the book and believe all the hype around this book is actually worth it.
The book has a strong and heavy storyline. It is about the rampant racial discrimination that was prevalent in the United States in early and mid nineties between the coloured and the white people. Despite the strong subject line, the story has been treated with great care. It is brave, warm and often witty. As a reader, not for a single moment I felt bogged down by the heavy subject of the book. It is not a sad book, but a heart warming one with a lot of hope, faith and love.
The book has very strong female characters, white and coloured. There is 22 years old Miss Skeeter, who has just returned home with a degree. Her mother is more interested in her marriage rather than her career. But, Miss Skeeter is restless, because her beloved coloured maid who had lovingly raised her, has disappeared. There are questions in Miss Skeeter’s mind that no one wants to answer. There is Aibileen, a black maid who works for Miss Skeeter’s friend – Miss Leefolt. She is raising her seventeenth white child. But, something has shifted in her heart since the death of her own only son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. And then there is Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. She can cook like nobody’s business but she can’t mind her tongue. This puts her into a lot of trouble with her employers and she can’t stick to a job for long.
Seemingly as different as can be, these women will come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk.
The story is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the time when the civil right movement in United States was at its peek. That was the time when Martin Luther King Jr went up a podium in Washington DC and said ‘I have a dream’. Things have changed a lot ever since and the world has come a long way. That is evident from the fact that Barack Obama is the present President of the United States of America.
This book is about the lines which human created based on colour and how people who nurtured a dream, set out to voice their opinion and overstep the man-made lines. It is about ordinary people who can be courageous in their own way. It is interesting to know that the writer drew inspiration from her own experience for writing this book, even though the book is largely a fictional account. I took some time to get used to the Afro American slang that is used generously in the book. It surely works for the story.
I really liked the quote by Howell Raines, which the author includes in her personal excerpt at the end of the book and I believe these words sums up the feeling behind the novel in a concise way.
“There is no trickier subject for a writer from the South than that of affection between a black and a white one in the unequal world of segregation. For the dishonesty upon which a society is founded makes every emotion suspect, makes it impossible to know whether what flowed between two people was honest feeling or pity or pragmatism.”
Although, I do not fall in either of the sides as far as colour is concerned, nor I have been through any incidents of racial discrimination, I can connect to the issue in a whole different way. I have seen discrimination on the basis of caste and creed in my own country and it is in many ways similar to the issue in context in the novel. It makes me realize that the things I take for granted today were not the same years back. It takes courage on the part of ordinary people who want to change things to step out of their comfort zone, voice their opinion, make an impact and initiate the change.
Don’t miss this one, it is not a literary piece but a heart warming tale that can tug the chords of your heart. Highly recommended.
This review was also posted on Pages (www.jbabel.blogspot.com)
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