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Islington Branch Book Club - Past Titles: "The House Girl" by Tara Conklin

Take a look through previous titles we've discussed at our Islington Branch Book Club

"The House Girl" by Tara Conklin

  1. **The novel alternates between the perspectives of Josephine Bell, a slave in the 1850s, and Lina Sparrow, a lawyer in the present day. How does the dual narrative structure enhance the storytelling, and what parallels or contrasts do you observe between the two women's lives?

  2. **Discuss the character of Josephine Bell. How does her background and experiences as a slave shape her identity, relationships, and decisions throughout the novel?

  3. **Lina Sparrow is tasked with finding a plaintiff for a reparations lawsuit. How does her journey intersect with the larger theme of historical accountability, and how does it challenge her perceptions of justice?

  4. **Explore the theme of art as a form of expression and resistance. How does Josephine's artistic talent become a significant part of her story, and in what ways does it impact the characters in the present day?

  5. **Discuss the ethical dilemmas faced by Lina Sparrow as she navigates the legal and moral complexities of the reparations lawsuit. How does her personal connection to the case influence her decisions?

  6. **The novel explores the institution of slavery in the antebellum South. In what ways does Tara Conklin depict the harsh realities of slavery, and how do the characters grapple with the moral implications of their roles in that system?

  7. **Examine the role of historical research and archival work in the novel. How does Lina's investigation into Josephine's life contribute to the narrative, and what challenges and revelations does she encounter?

  8. **Family relationships play a significant role in both Josephine's and Lina's stories. How do the dynamics within their families shape their experiences and choices?

  9. **Consider the impact of societal expectations on the characters, especially Josephine. How do gender, race, and social class influence the characters' opportunities and constraints?

  10. **Discuss the symbolism of the quilt featured in the novel. How does it represent the interconnectedness of lives and generations, and what significance does it hold for the characters?

  11. **Reflect on the title, "The House Girl." How does the term capture the essence of the novel, and in what ways does it encapsulate the roles and expectations placed on women in both historical periods?

  12. **The novel delves into themes of identity and self-discovery. How do Josephine and Lina grapple with questions of identity, belonging, and the search for one's true self?

Tara Conklin is an American author and former lawyer known for her novels that often explore complex themes and historical narratives. Here is a brief biography of Tara Conklin:

Early Life and Education:

  • Tara Conklin was born and raised in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • She earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from Yale University.

Legal Career:

  • After completing her undergraduate studies, Conklin attended New York University School of Law, where she earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.).
  • She worked as a litigator in the legal field for several years, practicing law in New York and London.

Transition to Writing:

  • Tara Conklin transitioned from a legal career to pursue her passion for writing.
  • Her debut novel, "The House Girl," was published in 2013 and received positive reviews for its exploration of historical and moral themes.


  • "The House Girl" (2013) is a historical novel that weaves together the stories of two women living in different historical periods—one a slave in the antebellum South and the other a lawyer in contemporary New York.

  • "The Last Romantics" (2019) is another novel by Conklin, exploring the lives of four siblings over five decades and examining the complexities of family relationships.

Writing Style and Themes:

  • Conklin's writing is characterized by its exploration of moral dilemmas, family dynamics, and historical narratives.
  • She often weaves together multiple perspectives and timelines to create intricate and thought-provoking stories.

Personal Life:

  • Information about Tara Conklin's personal life, beyond her professional achievements, is not extensively available in public sources.

Tara Conklin's novels have been praised for their literary quality, engaging storytelling, and the depth with which they explore complex themes. Her transition from law to literature showcases her ability to bring a nuanced understanding of legal and moral issues to her fiction.


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