It is far too late for a pregnant woman to be up writing book reviews. Silly, really. Couldn’t it wait until morning? It could, but I fear by then the emotional charge coursing through me would be gone and I might, in some way, fail to translate how I’m really feeling.
Books make me cry a lot. I cry because stories are powerful, because my emotions link to those of the characters that capture my heart and my attention. With this book, I cried for those reasons. But it’s more than that this time.
Here I sit, twenty minutes after finishing, still wiping the tears from my cheeks. Let me see if I can explain why.
I’ve studied the civil rights movement. I’ve read Martin Luther King. I know the significance of what Rosa Parks did when she refused to give up her seat. I know what Jim Crowe laws are, and shaken my head at the injustice of it all. But from what have I gained my perspective? I wasn’t there, was I? What I’ve learned, I learned from history books, from documentaries and broadcasts detailing the lives of those willing to sacrifice life and limb to fight for equality and justice for all. There is nothing wrong with these true and respectable accounts.
But there is always more than one perspective.
I’ve just read “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. It’s a book set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early sixties, detailing the lives and relationships of white high society women, and the black help; house maids, maids that cared for children, that cooked meals and ironed shirts, and changed bed linens.
This book picked me up and put me right in the middle of the deep south in a world that I’ve never really thought about before. I can’t say I’ve ever thought about what it was like to be a maid in Mississippi in 1964, how it would feel to know that all the women in your family before you were maids, on up to your great grandmother who was a house slave. To know that the best way to take care of your family is to leave them at home and go take care of someone elses, because it is the only way a black woman in Mississippi can earn a paycheck.
I felt the emotions of these women, the good, the bad, the fiercely intense, the heartbreakingly sad. I felt the prick of every injustice, the indignity of very intentional segregation. I found myself shaking my head, knowing that their really were women that insisted the “help” use a separate bathroom in the garage for fear of catching a disease if they used the ones inside. I found myself hoping that had I lived fifty years ago, I would have acted differently, not played the games of society, but stood up and fought for what was right.
And there were those that fought. The book is full of lines; lines between black and white that people aren’t supposed to cross. But as you read, you witness a handful of women discovering that those lines only exist in people’s minds, and that with enough courage, they can be erased.
When I finished reading, I cried because I know how far our country has come, and then I cried that any people, of any color, would ever need endure such painful persecution.
I won’t stop thinking about this book for a long time.
Read it, would you? I’d love to know what you think.