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The Housemaid's Daughter: A Novel Hardcover – December 10, 2013
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*Starred Review* Irish émigré Cathleen Harrington settles in the small town of Craddock in South Africa in 1919, where she marries the reticent Edward. Feeling lonely and isolated, she forges a unique bond with black housemaid Ada, whom she teaches to read and write and play the piano. Their relationship deepens over their shared passion for classical music, especially since Cathleen’s own daughter exhibits none of her mother’s generous spirit. But when Ada finds herself in a compromising position, she leaves the household, hiding herself in a nearby black township, where she secures a position as a music teacher. There she is forced to confront the racial tensions of apartheid, which she had previously been sheltered from due to her privileged existence. In this moving first novel, Mutch’s lilting prose summons the stark South African landscape, making readers feel the heat of the Karoo Desert and fear the rising waters of the Groot Vis. More than that, Mutch conveys the joys of dancing and music, the exultation of hope and courage, and the pain of being ostracized for one’s skin color. Rich in detail and subtle in its politics, this affecting novel tells a poignant, inspiring story. --Joanne Wilkinson
“A compelling story . . . Ada's voice is by turns as lyrical and fierce as the music she plays on her beloved piano . . . Mutch evokes compassion for this stark and beautiful land and for the characters who strive to find their place amidst the turmoil that grips it.” ―Patricia Falvey, bestselling author of The Yellow House
“[An] exquisite debut . . . This is a book to be cherished, one that will grow deeper and richer with re-reading.” ―Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August
“If you loved The Help, try The Housemaid's Daughter . . . The friendship at its center will leave your heart singing.” ―Good Housekeeping (UK)
Top customer reviews
But as the book progressed and Ada's life got harder and more complicated I enjoyed the book far more - and it made sense that she's been sheltered in an unusual way - not a regular experience for a black maid at that time. The contrast between her life and her friends' lives (like Lindiwe and Dina)was evident and made it a bit more realistic.
Her descriptions of the Karoo veld and the birds' singing made me a bit homesick for the South African bushveld - she captures the sounds and smells of the Karoo beautifully. It was also great to get a bit of Cradock's history around that time - you hear so much about the struggles against Apartheid in the larger centres, but the smaller towns tend to be forgotten.
Loved the book by the end and would recommend as an overall good read.
The outstanding feature, however, is the beautiful weaving of stories by author Barbara Mutch. I can't think of a finer and more beautiful telling of a complicated story than what Mutch has brought together in this book. Absolutely perfect.
As a small child Ada tags along with her mother, a maid in a white family’s home. She becomes a beautiful young woman as racial hatred becomes legal and brutal. She lives in two places—the lovely home of her white mistress and the pulsating, angry townships where blacks live. The details of life in South Africa—both the exquisite and the horrifying—carry huge truth.
Ada is both brilliant and pure of heart, and her purity may seem like childishness. But instead, because of her complete trust in God, she simply keeps believing in The Good, even when she is shamed, brutalized and trapped. The mother of her soul is her white mistress, and their enduring love is what this book is really about.
This is a transcendent story that is more about love than about race, even though race dirties and almost destroys all that is good. I do not agree that Ada’s voice is overly simple, as some reviewers have said. I think it is wise, and I think it rings true. Any person who cares about spirit would love this book.