Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The Help by Karin Stockett
So, I finally got around to read The Help by Karin Stockett, and I really liked this book. It has just been released in Denmark in Danish, and I know that there are great expectations that it will become a bestseller in Denmark as it is in USA.
We are in the beginning of the 1960'es in Mississippi. Society is segregated between colored (NB! I use the word colored here because that is the word used in the book) and white people. We follow two colored women, Aibileen and Minny and one white woman, Miss Skeeter. Many colored women back then were, if they were lucky to have a job, maids in white familie's households. Only in their maid-uniforms could they shop in white supermarkets for instance.
Aibileen works for Miss Elizabeth, one of Miss Skeeter's friends. Minny works for Miss Walters who are the mother of the third friend Miss Hilly. The three friends are in their early 20'es, Aibileen is 50+ and Minny around 40.
Elizabeth and Hilly are married with children, while Skeeter is more concerned with getting started on a career in journalism and writing. When Skeeter comes back to her parent's plantation after college, she discovers, that her family's beloved maid of almost 40 years, Constantine, has gone. Her mother, who is more interested in finding a suitable man for Skeeter, refuse to tell her what has happened to Constantine. This troubles Skeeter a great deal.
The three friends meet once a week to play bridge, and it is at one of those bridge-sessions that Skeeter hears Hilly say, that the colored help should have their own toilet and not use the white family's since it is well know that colored people carry diseases dangerous to white people. Something about this doesn't sit well with Skeeter, who has not really thought about the segregation before, and as Hilly's talk over time becomes more and more racist (something Hilly is not aware of herself), Skeeter begins to withdraw from her friends, at least mentally. She begins to develop some kind of friendship with Aibileen, although this is dangerous for both of them. No white woman has any business with a colored help, unless they the one is employed by the other.
Inspired by something Aibileen has said about her son, Skeeter has a dangerous plan. But she can not do it alone, she needs the help of Aibileen and later also Minny. As the story unfolds and the plan is set in motion, we also follow all the women (colored and white) in their daily life with husbands, children or the lack hereof in the segregated society of Southern USA in the early 1960'es. This is as exotic to me as it would've been if the book had taken place in Japan or the African jungle since I am Danish and live in Denmark (and wasn't born back then). But is is worth thinking about the fact that those things happened less than 50 years ago.
I am the last one to deny that the main thematics in this book unfortunately are something that still holds true in one way or the other, also in Denmark, in our day and age. And there is no way I would ever feel indifferent to this particluar period of the American history. I do believe that this is not just America's history, it is also the rest of the world's history. All that said, it IS America's history, and while we all can learn, I am not sure the book will have the same impact and bestseller nature in Denmark, even though it has just been translated. The Danish title is, byt the way, "Niceville" with the under title (translated to): three women, two worlds, one story. And I thought you should se the Danish cover of the book. Personally I think the cover spells "female lit" - somthing which will not make any men thinking of picking this book up. A shame, if you ask me. However, having called the book the Danish equivalent of The Help would not had made any sense in Danish.
Anyway, if you haven't read this book, do it. It was a fantastic story.