The Help

06/10/2012 at 10:45 AM (Books, Classics, Inspired, Politics) (, , , , , , )

This was a book which I had reserved for ages thanks to a work-related book club listing. It was so readable and engaging in tone that it took one sitting to finish reading although it was approaching the wee hours of the morning by then. I didn’t realise it encompassed the perspectives of different characters (Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter) until the fourth chapter – I was too engrossed in the unfolding plot. This is a book written by a writer who has paid attention to suspenseful build up of plot with teasers – in my experience, those books are the page turners. Each character also has a unique voice but while I’m sure it helped the reading, I didn’t exactly dwell over it.

So here’s the summary: The Help by Kathryn Stockett is the story of Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, and Minny Jackson. Skeeter has  graduated from college and has returned to Jackson, Mississippi. She feels unsatisfied by her small town, Wednesday bridge club and working as the editor of the Junior League, because she wants to be a professional writer. She has her fair share of troubles because unlike her friends she has not found a husband yet and her mother is always trying to remind her to find dates. She wants to obtain a publishing position in New York but she has only received rejection letters. Inspired by her fondness for her former maid, Constantine — who left without a word before she returned — and annoyance with her friend Hilly’s “Home Sanitation Initiative” (a scheme for white people to set up bathrooms for their colored help), Skeeter sets out to write the stories of the black maids in her town. Naturally given this story is set in 1962 and given the setting, they are embarking on a fairly dangerous mission.

The Help book cover

 I’m not white, I’m not African-American and I’m not a citizen of USA. While I knew some background on civil war history, I  liked the angle this book took on the Jim Crow laws and maids working for white women that they once raised as babies. There were two readings which struck me: Skeeter, a white woman gives a voice to “colored” maids who are silenced by the laws governing their state about race. On the positive side, it represents a simple college girl finding courage to stand up for the oppressed race. On the negative side, this is a story about mastery and race – the maids could not have done this without Skeeter’s assistance. At least, those are the two sides of the coin to me.

What was most beautiful to me was the relationship between Aibileen and motherly affection-starved Mae Mobley. I loved how the racist first grade teacher was changed when Raleigh Leefolt saw her playing ‘Rosa Parks on the bus’ with her sibling after she lied to defend Aibileen. Celia Foote, Johnny and Minny also had quite interesting interactions. The book definitely has its share of dramatic and funny moments.

Well, as for my opinion? It is worth reading, though there is plenty of subject matter about racism in the Southern States, because of the perspectives from which it is written – especially that of Aibileen andMinny.

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