I can’t believe I’m already done with this challenge. I signed up for the half-Cannonball read, which entailed reading 26 books within a year, and I’m already done. What will I do with my life now? What do you mean, I can read a book and not review it?
The help by Kathryn Stockett is an unputdownable book. Unputdownable – is that a word? No? Well, it should be. It tells the story of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties. One of them, Skeeter, is white and trying to become a writer, while playing bridge and attending high-society parties with her other privileged white friends. The two others are black, their job description being to take care of said friends’ households. Predictably, they get treated like lesser beings, like slaves – only because they’re getting paid it’s somehow ok. They have to sit and eat by themselves at work. Use separate toilets so that they don’t spread their black diseases to the white folk. And never disagree with their bosses, no matter how unjust they get treated, because then they’ll be accused of stealing things, lose their jobs and, in some cases, end up in prison.
These three women will join forces to write a book about the situation in their town, risking everything they have, during a time in history when black people got beat up and even killed for wanting equal treatment. In the process they’ll find out things about themselves and each other and form a friendship that transcends the racial barriers.
Stockett draws a lot of her inspiration from her own experiences growing up in Mississippi. She describes how, for a well-off white family, having a black maid was a given. How much love often existed between said maids and the children they took care of. How, despite the abolition of slavery more than a century before, tension between the two races was like a ticking bomb. Tension, which along with shame (for some people), bull-headed adherence to the old ways (for others) and even frothing-in-the-mouth hatred (for a few) made life a living hell for these maids.
It takes many years for societies to change. Racism will most likely always be a part of them. It’s just that we find a different bogeyman each time. And it all boils down to the barriers we put up between ”us” and ”them”, and seeing ”them” as an anonymous mass with no discernible features. We don’t know ”them”. We just need a vessel onto which to empty our hatred, our fears, our own failures. If we look too close, we see that these people have fears of their own, they have dreams, hopes, they are similar, they are different, the same way you and I are similar yet different. And I think that one of Stockett’s main messages is that we need to start looking closer instead of hiding behind charity (which is often an attempt to quiet our conscience rather than done out of true love).
An easy read that deals with a heavy subject, it’s a book that is obviously written with love. None of the characters are caricature-like good or evil. Persons who behave in a horrible way towards their help are great mothers. Victims behave like bullies in different circumstances. And people that we adore have dark secrets in their past. It is these grey zones that exist in reality that make it so hard for those who are willing to see them to make sweeping generalisations about races.
Maybe the best book I’ve read this year and one of the best I’ve ever read.
More of my reviews on my blog.