Saturday, October 10, 2009


The Help

Growing up the South is not for the faint of heart. An enigmatic place at the best of times, it is paradoxical to its core. Finding your way through the varied switchbacks and roundabouts than make up the overgrown maze of its personality can be a bewildering experience, and one that often takes a lifetime, at least. Just when you think you have it solidly in your sights, it slips around a corner leaving only the faint fragrance of a fading magnolia hanging in the muggy air. At the very moment you feel confident with its definition, it can, without warning, fashion itself into a creature of myth, sending you back to huddle over your history books and crystal balls, once again in search of the truth about this place you call home. It is a land where heart-stopping beauty and heart-rending ugliness flourish in tandem - a land of kindness and hate, of ignorance and wit, of integrity, blindness, and pride.

Here in the South we often feel we are the only ones remotely qualified to comment on our strange and haunted part of the planet. Be it on film, stage or between the covers of a book, we can spot a fake Southern accent in an flash, finding it rather more humorous than offensive. For how can those who were not raised with this mystery ever hope to interpret it with an authentic voice? Indeed, those who have gotten it right, who have held the bright prism up high, reflecting the myriad of colours - all the primaries and secondaries, the darks, the lights, the shaded greys - that paint the true picture of the South, well, those few were mostly born here. They know of what they speak. Harper Lee nailed it to the wall with To Kill A Mockingbird, and there have been others. Faulkner, Capote, Welty, O’Connor, Clyde Edgerton, Pat Conroy, all writers who knew their homeland well and managed to share some of her secrets with the outside world.

I have recently finished reading a brand-new book that I am so pleased to add to my shelf of Southern writers. This author has accomplished the task of rolling back the stones and illuminating the hidden South most admirably. The author is Kathryn Stockett, and the book is entitled, The Help. Mississippi born and raised, Ms. Stockett has indeed written what she knows and her truth shines with a glowing light on every page of this marvelous first novel. Literate and heart-felt, it is warm and funny, painful and tragic, a story in which wisdom burns in the midst of ignorance, courage walks hand in hand with fear.
Much like the South itself.

We have come so far here in this part of the country, with miles, no doubt, to go. The shame of our past can never be erased, or even understood, but we cannot move forward if that past goes unacknowledged. The Help reminds us not only of where we have been and how far we have come, but also how very much we all share, how much we are alike. It is an amazing achievement, populated with unforgettable characters, and it was a pure pleasure to read.



Painting above: The Magnolia Flower by Martin Johnson Heade

59 comments:

  1. Do you by any chance know who wrote 'Murder in Coweta County ?' Errol Samms maybe? The South is blessed by wonderful authors ,literature and commentators often unknown outside their own turf. You describe with great insight and tenderness a a part of the world that is very special.I'll order this book you recommend from Amazon today. How;s Edward?

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  2. I am reading this now and loving it.
    pve

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  3. I'm LOVING to say I told you so!! :)
    I know my southern writing and our girl Katheryn is right up there with best!! Best book I've read in years!
    So HAPPY you loved it Pamela and I'm e-mailing your review to Kathryn right now!! :)

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  4. Another blogger wrote about this book and I commented that I knew of anoher reading it- now I remember it was Patricia. So-three good reviews-I must put this on my list to read. Thank you for the glimpse into southern writing.

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  5. As always you write so well of what you also know so well.

    Thank you for stopping by to wish me well..it certainly halped.

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  6. Read The Help this past year and thoroughly enjoyed and learned from it. Your first paragraph kind of describes Washington, DC where our first child was born.

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  7. I am never absolutely sure Pamela exactly what is meant by "The South" - I have visited Houston and the area round there which would seem to be South to me, but I understand that is not the area you mean. What defines the Southy, Please?

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  8. Fine review of what looks to be a great book. I've heard a lot of good thing about it. I like how you bring the southern perspective into it. I just reviewed a novel, But Not For Long by Michelle Wildgen, that I think you'd like too. You'd appreciate its sensuality and fine writing.

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  9. You write a good review, Pamela. This post brings to mind a quote I found but am not sure of the author.
    "Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future."

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  10. I am looking forward to reading this one. Thank you for another insightful and beautifully written post.

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  11. Read and loved this from a very different place in Wales.

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  12. I am southern to the core and love reading southern literature! I'm so happy to have the name of this author! Thanks!

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  13. I thought you might like to see what I found out on my library search....

    The help / Kathryn Stockett.

    Requests: 82
    Available Copies: 0

    Maybe I should think about buying this one! lol

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  14. I'll add this to my reading list.

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  15. I shall look for that book. Thanks.

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  16. Thanks for the review. I always like to know what others think about books they've read. I like being able to make informed choices when choosing my reading materials.

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  17. Oh- it was on a very long waiting list at the library and not out in paperback, so I took my self to the book seller with coupon in hand and bought it and they told me it would be awhile before it came out in paper-back! Bravo to Kathryn on her first novel.
    pve

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  18. Hello P&E,

    Clearly, you enjoyed this book. It takes a special author to recreate well an environment we might know intimately, in a sensitive but realistic way.

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  19. Dear Pamela, you're talking to me, and how. My grandfather was born on a plantation, son of the owner. He actually fought in the Civil War, for the south. That's my grandfather, not great grandfather. My father was a Virginian, yet he raised us in Michigan to be unprejudiced. Still when I go to the South my heart goes through amazing conflict.

    My husband and I will spend a few days in Charleston at Christmas since our kids won't be home for the holiday this year. I intend to read Conroy's new South of Broad beforehand. He is amazing for someone who did not spend his whole life in that neck of the woods, how he has captured it. My family homestead isn't too far from there, now a museum, and I'd like to stop by again, this time with a camera. Such mixed feelings!

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  20. I loved your post! I must read that book! suzie. xx

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  21. I would love to read 'The Help' Pamela, it sounds highly entertaining as well as enlightening. Have a happy weekend, xv.

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  22. wonderful, wonderful post - you are so right - you have to be a native to know it - will definitely put this on my read list - I'm back into reading Alice Hoffman and loving her work all over again :)

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  23. Interesting. Definitely worth making time for.

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  24. My mother and sister both read this and can't stop talking about it. My mom keeps saying that in Texas we treated our help more like members of the family, not like in the book? not sure - i need to read it. I grew up with 'help' and Katherine and her family were our family - the two were so mixed together. I'm going to kindle the book this weekend!

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  25. Pamela,
    Like another reader asked you , I would ask the same question : "What do you exactly mean with the South?"

    Greet

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  26. The writers you list are the ones I have always been most drawn to of all American authors. Oh, and I love Carson McCullers, too. Even though I grew up in Maine, I love the South, and have always felt connected to it when I've lived there or read about it. Rural Maine reminds me very much of many places I've known in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. We, too, can spot a fake Maine accent at fifty paces. It makes us laugh, and it also unites us in our "Maine-ness."

    I love your question, "How can those who were not raised with this mystery ever hope to interpret it with an authentic voice?" Yes! That's so beautifully put. It's also part of what, as a Northerner, fascinates me about the South and keeps me coming back to explore it on the page and in person.

    Thanks, Pamela, for your insights and your beautiful writing. And thank you for introducing us to a new Southern writer to enjoy!

    xoxo Gigi

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  27. I'll have to search this book out and see if it's available in the U.K. ....Although I'm English, I have a little knowledge of the South. I have been to Atlanta and much of the surrounding area. XXXX

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  28. Sounds like an enchanting book. Will certainly make a note of that title. Love the way you describe your part of the world.

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  29. Pamela, I love the South! I l am not American by birth, but my parents have been in love with its rich history and literature for many years. Shortly after we came to the States we took a family car trip to Georgia, Louisiana, and both Carolinas. My mom was over the moon. She wanted nothing more than to move to Charleston. I can't wait to pick up this book!

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  30. I admire the way this magnolia was painted! Heard about the book - it's part of the US that I still am trying to understand (so vastly different from European culture) - so I should put it on my Christmas list:)

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  31. I have always been fascinated by the south and secretly wish that I hailed somewhere south of the mason dixon line. My brief visits have always been so magical! Can't wait to check this book out...let the vicarious living begin.

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  32. I was down south this summer and loved it...........

    Fabulous posting as always
    Love Jeanne

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  33. I have heard to many wonderful things about this book. It is high on my TBR list.

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  34. I cannot wait to read this. Being from the South, those southern writers, with their magic words, make me feel an internal piece of home, even though my body is 3000 miles away.
    Your words are incredible and your description of the South couldn't be more perfect.
    xo Isa

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  35. I cannot wait to read this. Being from the South, those southern writers, with their magic words, make me feel an internal piece of home, even though my body is 3000 miles away.
    Your words are incredible and your description of the South couldn't be more perfect.
    xo Isa

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  36. I adore the cover of this book. The colors and the birds - love it.

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  37. I loved, loved, loved this book. So far, it's the best of 2009 for me.

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  38. So glad I stumbled on your lovely lovely blog again..

    I must tell you that I like like like your nice blog!

    Agneta & Sweden

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  39. Well you certainly give it a glowing review. It sounds like a must-read to me... much like your blog. :)

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  40. I know next to nothing about "The South" but I feel that I am learning about it, bit by bit, through your blog.

    re. last post, I am picturing a Tiffany lamp in your window. That was such a good read I find myself daydreaming about it!

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  41. I adores this book! I read it a while back and it site prominently on my bookshelf...glad you enjoyed it :-)

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  42. I really don't know the South well. I have stayed in Eureka Springs
    Arkansas
    but that isn't really the south.
    Somewhere new and exciting to discover in the future.
    The book sounds really interesting.

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  43. I read this book and I loved it too. So much insight into the characters and the place that formed them.

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  44. I listened to it on my recent LOOONg plane ride. Unfortunately, I kept dozing...the southern twang would lull me to sleep.

    I will give it a go again. Beautiful review!

    Why did I think you grew up in England...or Canada??

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  45. I have always wondered why this Canadian born girl with a curl loves books from the South. I have no idea why the South makes my heart beat wild, but I'm with you all the way. Thanks for the book recommendation!

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  46. Thanks for the book recommendstion Pamela. I've read Lee and some Faulkner but hadn't heard of her.

    Isn't Autumn looking gorgeous now?

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  47. sounds like a book to put on my already too long 'to-be-read' list... thanks for the recommendation...

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  48. I love Southern writing and have had my eye on this book. With your endorsement, I will definitely pick it up. The subject matter intrigues me... though I have no personal experience with "help" and my southern roots are two generations away and certainly not of the social class to have had help. Conversely, it's the New England branch of my family tree that had the money and the help. Enough chattering... I'll just go get the book!

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  49. This book is on my list! Can't wait to read... thank you for the recommendation. And great post, as well!

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  50. I do love good recommendations for first-time authors. We need to support the fledglings, especially as it becomes harder and harder to get published.

    I was working on the family genealogy this spring and discovered that most of my relatives were from Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. I have very conflicted feelings about the South, though.

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  51. So glad you have found your way to The Help. I loved the voices of all of the women. I loved the way the brutish conditions for the help were not glossed over. I did not grow up with help. But I did grow up with strong women. This book is a classic and deserves its proper place on the southern bookshelf. With a discerning eye and a faultless ear, Kathryn Stockett paid a loving tribute to the brave women who were the help. They were the ones with the real class.

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  52. Sounds like a good read. I'll have to check this one out..

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  53. that particular shade of red....in the 1970's we called 'oxblood.'
    it is one of my favorites.
    especially in leather.
    xx

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  54. This was the first book I read on Kindle for ipod touch! Loved the book and the characters. The cover is beautiful as well! Great review!

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  55. I loved it too, the best book in a long time!
    It was a delight.
    It made me laugh and cry.

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  56. well your Po$t is good and i really like it :). . .awesome WORK . . .KEEP SHARING. .;)
    book review help

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!