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What You Owe Me Paperback – September 9, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The friendship between a black woman and a new immigrant in 1940s California sets in motion events that span two generations in Campbell's (Singing in the Comeback Choir) densely plotted new novel. Hosanna Clark, a maid at an elegant Los Angeles hotel, befriends her new white co-worker Gilda Rosenstein, a Holocaust survivor whose family had owned a cosmetics factory. When Hosanna tries a special lotion Gilda has made, she persuades Gilda to produce it for Hosanna to sell to local black women. They are very successful, and at Gilda's suggestion they open a joint bank account. Not long after, Gilda and her new husband disappear with all their profits. Daughter Matriece, a witness to Hosanna's struggle to survive on her own, resolves to achieve the success her mother never had; she eventually becomes a division president in Gilda's cosmetics empire. Ignorant of Matriece's identity, Gilda mentors the young woman, with whom she feels an unexplained bond. Gilda's reaction, when she finally learns the truth, is unexpected, and she startles everyone with a surprising proposal that brings the story to a neat conclusion. Numerous subplots crowd the novel, covering issues from reparations and education to romance and betrayal. Campbell's detailed treatment of each accounts for the book's length, but all are credibly tied to the central tale. Character portraits are sometimes shallow, and the story's length tests the reader's stamina, but those with the patience to follow its intricate, entwined relationships will find the novel rewarding. (Aug. 6)Forecast: This wide-ranging effort is most reminiscent of Campbell's 1994 Brothers and Sisters and is positioned to perform just as strongly. First serial went to Essence magazine, and the book has been chosen as a main selection of the Black Expression Book Club and as an alternate selection of BOMC, the Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club and QPB. A major ad/promo campaign and a 27-city author tour will cover all conceivable bases.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Campbell (Brothers and Sisters) here tells the story of Hosanna Clark, a black maid in a Los Angeles hotel, and her surprising relationship with Gilda, a white Jewish migr e from Poland. Just after World War II, the women join forces to promote a hand lotion that Gilda makes, with Gilda managing the financial end of their newborn partnership and Hosanna hustling the product. But just as they quit their jobs to make cosmetics for black women full time, Gilda disappears, as does all the cash in their joint bank account. Gilda starts her own cosmetics company, which brings her both fame and fortune, and Hosanna passes her jealousy, anger, and thirst for revenge on to her daughter, Matriece. Matriece goes to work for Gilda after Hosannah dies, with unfocused plans for revenge, but the crisis is unexpectedly resolved, with a happy ending for everyone. Campbell freights her story with ethical and religious messages and abundant black/white and parent/child conflicts it cannot quite sustain. Though the characters are well drawn, they are stereotypical, and their dialog is thin and somewhat stilted. Not as convincing as her other works but still a good read; recommended for public libraries. Joanna Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (September 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425227669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425227664
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dawn R Reeves on August 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When you look at this book you may gawk at the length but as you read you will forget about the size and be mesmerized by the story. What You Owe Me is the story of Hosanna Clark and Gilda Rosenstein. One black, one Jewish, both determined to become successful businesswomen at the end of World War II. Hosanna has the desire while Gilda has the formulas to form a cosmetic company.
Fast forward to Matriece "Triesey" Carter, she is the daughter of Hosanna. Matriece makes it her personal mission to avenge what she believes is Gilda's betrayal of her mother. This is done at the expense of her relationships with others.
There are many other characters with their own stories. Campbell weaves this tale so that everything and everyone's story has closure and just maybe a little too "happily ever after". You have Vonette, Matriece's sister, and her Mexican brood who was not interested in Hosanna's dreams. Uncle Tuney, Hosanna's brother, and his decades-long litigation against a Texas magnate to regain his family's land. Blair, Matriece's friend from the old neighborhood who "made it". Mooney, Hosanna's financial "backer". The Montgomery family, a rhythm and blues star, Gilda's children and a host of other characters. There is more to say about the characters and their stories but to do that would give the story away and this is must read from a fabulous author.
I enjoyed how the book opened and ended with the voice of Hosanna. She boldly claims "closure is what I'm seeking. Death ain't nothing but another opportunity." What You Owe Me should appeal to all because demonstrated are relationships across racial and economic lines and also some classism within a class. Campbell demonstrates that money can not buy happiness and love but love of family, despite material wealth, can bring so much joy.
This is an excellent selection for any reading group, as it would provide a lively and lengthy discussion. This is a moving account of betrayal, love and healing.
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Format: Hardcover
Bebe Moore Campbell continues to prove that she is a gifted storyteller and her latest novel, What You Owe Me lived up to this reader's expectations! Initially, one might be daunted by the thickness of the book...but make no mistake by delay reading this book...cause it is truly a page turner...in fact the writing was so compelling that I tried to read this book in one sitting and almost succeeded. The story is well-crafted with a good storyline; realistic and dimensional characters; vivid imagery and shocking plot twists and turns.
In spite of better race relationships today, it is still often surprising to hear of an African American and a Caucasian being good friends more or less business partners. So, of course, this was even more surprising and suspicious when Hosanna Clark(an African-American woman) and Gilda Rosenstein(a Jewish woman) decided to embark on a friendship and business venture in the 1940s. As many would predict, the business would take off and be successful, however, Gilda would disappear along with the assets. Hosanna would be doubly betrayed: financially ruined and emotionally bereft. Although, Hosanna would make a go at it as a solo entrepreneur, she would never achieve the fame or status that she deserved and years later, when she passes away, her small cosmetic company dies with her. But Hosanna leaves behind a daughter, Matriece, who is determined to right the wrongs suffered by her mother by taking on a mission to collect her mother's debt.
What You Owe Me is a story that spans 50 years and introduces one to the lives of Gilda and Hosanna as well as their offsprings. While the story is primarily about Gilda, Hosanna and Matriece...
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Format: Hardcover
Before I read this book, I thought it would be a very straightforward tale of betrayal, revenge and reparation. In some sense, it is just that. But there are so many other things going on in this book that I think the main story gets lost somewhere.
The first 11 chapters of this book is a fairly tight and riveting story of Hosanna and Gilda's relationship. We hear the story of Hosanna and Gilda in Hosanna's first-person narration. It is post WWII L.A. Black people have not prospered the way they should have. Hosanna is a maid who is strong willed and ambitious. She doesn't want to wash people's floors for the rest of her life. Although an optimist, Hosanna is very emotionally hardened by the relentlessness of daily racism. At one point later on, Matriece, Hosanna's daughter says "She was born the wrong race and the wrong gender at the wrong time." There is a clear message even in these early pages that Hosanna could have been a success if it weren't for the tragedy of racism.
Along comes Gilda who is a Jewish woman. She is, as seen through the eyes of Hosanna, a timid woman who is simply surviving day to day from the ravages of her past. She is a Holocaust survivor of the Nazi death camps. Because this first part of the book is told from Hosanna's viewpoint, we never get a real bead on Gilda. For me, she remained a very remote figure, even later on when the POV switches to the third-person omniscience of the author. She is molded not just by her experiences as a prisoner but also as a person who finds herself in Hosanna's forceful presence. Even though it is true that she takes off with the money she and Hosanna make from their small cosmetics venture, it is very difficult to actually hate Gilda.
At about chapter 12 the focus shifts, in more ways than one.
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