Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Three Women Take a Brave Step in a Racist US Society

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is certainly the most discussed book of this summer. Successful marketing and PR techniques, or indeed a new bestseller, I decided to check it out and I became one of the fashionable wanna be's (if you do not know most celebrities, including Sarah Jessica Parker are seen carrying it around) and I bought the novel.

Although I do not fancy reading about racist conflicts in the USA, the Ku Klux Klan and so on, I was pleasantly surprised by Stocket's novel. It is told by the perspective of three women - Aibileen, a middle aged African-American maid, who has taken care of 17 white babies, Minny, an edgy and restless African-American maid, who has lost her jobs many times due to her incontinent thong, and Skeeter, a young white woman, who just graduated from university and returned home. The plot is set in the 1960s, in a small city Jackson, Mississipi, torn by racial prejudices, scandals, and intolerance. In this dangerous atmosphere, where African-Americans are beaten because they enter white stores or use white toilets these three women take a brave step. Skeeter, a future writer to be, decides to write a novel from the perspective of the African-American maids. Aibileen and Minny, followed by other brave maids, share their experience with their white masters. They do not reserve any juicy detail - from the insults, beatings, and the contempt to their unlimited love and affection for the little white children they take care off. This initiative, especially in one of the blackest states in the USA, is about to change their perspectives, to motivate them not to give up, but also to put in danger their lives.

I must admit the book is a little bit overrated. It is indeed a good reading but not a masterpiece or a bestseller as carefully prepared and installed PR propaganda claimed it to be. Still, I found many positive aspects. The Help is positive and inspiring; it shows great love, affection, and understanding from the African-American maids. These women are strong and independent; they are learned not to give up and to take care of themselves despite the difficulties. A careful reader may benefit from the simple, yet immensely important life truths - be good to others and to yourself, always search and tell the truth, and never judge other people by the way they look or the amount of money and social status they have.

I understand Kathryn Stockett's motivation behind writing this novel. She was born in Jackson, Mississipi and she was also raised by an African-American maid. As Stockett was growing up, her family insisted that her maid is different from them and doesn't deserve the same respect and possibilities. Kathryn loved her maid very much and claims her to be the biggest influence in her life. I see her image projected in Aibileen, who attempts to teach the little white child to be acceptive, motivated, and confident.

What I didn't enjoy about The Help was the constant change of the point-of-view. Stocket tells the story by alternating between Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter. I understand she tried to give us a broader and more comprehensive picture by giving us the white and the black point-of-view. Still, I got a little bit confused from times to times.

As a conclusion, The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a good summer reading, which you might as well enjoy on the beach or resting at home. I personally finished the novel for 4 days because it is interesting and compelling. Still, you mustn't expect a profound and extensive description of the racist issues in the 1960s. It is simply a nice, optimistic story, which, I believe, Kathryn used to thank her maid for everything she has done for her.

PS:Interestingly, the Bulgarian translator (as I read it in Bulgarian) translated the title as The Maid. I don't know why such a decision was taken but I certainly do not approve of it. I believe a lot of the meaning the title conveys is lost with such a change. Anyways, it again proves the point that, if possible of course, it is always better to read a novel in the original language. Thus, you are protected from translator's mistakes or weird ideas.

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