This is one of my all-time absolute favourite books. Raise your hand if you love The Help *waves both hands in the air energetically*. Never read it? Here’s why you should:
The Help is by far the most captivating book that has been told from more than one point of view. There are three main narrators: Aibileen, Skeeter, and Minnie. Usually when I read a book that is being narrated by different people, I feel jarred every time there’s a jump. Not here. When it’s Aibileen’s turn, I miss Minnie/Skeeter but I’m so glad to be hearing Aibileen’s soft, low voice. Vice versa for the other two. The words don’t drip with honey. There are no sweeping metaphors to describe setting or emotions. There’s no over-description or lack of detail. The book simply lets you step into Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s and take a stroll for yourself.
I wanted to use the word exquisite for the story, but it just doesn’t fit. To me, exquisite is like a piece of beautiful glassware, placed front-and-center in a showcase for people to admire but not touch. The Help is earthy. It’s human. It draws you into the stickiness of the Mississippi summers and the heat of social injustice. It allows your cheeks to flush, your heart to beat with a mixture of emotions, and your nails to get dirty as you scrape the surface of the story. For me, there’s no emerging when I read The Help. I’m there to stay.
I know the racial injustice stories have been ‘done to death’, as some would say. We’ve heard it all and we know how it ends. However this isn’t just a story of black versus white. It’s a story about The Help. Those men and women that break their backs to make homes run smoothly. What is it like for a black woman, or any woman, to raise someone else’s children while their own are left to their devices or sent away? What is it like for The Help to be told they can’t use the same bathrooms as the higher stratas…the same cutlery, crockery, roads, libraries, restaurants, and more? What is it like to be The Help?
I grew up in India where having a maid was as normal as breathing oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. As I grew up, and especially once I moved to the States and then back again to India, I recognized stark differences with the way families treat their maids or manservants. Some families treat them with kindness, care, respect and apathy. Others, quite simply, don’t. There were moments when I would be at a friend’s house and become absolutely appalled at something they said or did to their help. But why does it stop there? What about all the maids around the world, traveling far from their own countries to earn a little money by waiting on someone else hand and foot?
This is an eye-opening book because nobody can turn around and say “It’s all in the past”. Yes the black versus white debate may be in the past in most areas, but the way The Help are treated all over the world is a pressing issue that few recognize. For North Americans, the concept might be completely alien. For someone that has been exposed to a culture where these ways are the norm, it is a harsh punch to the gut.
Here are my questions when it’s all said and done. How many people read the book The Help when it gained popularity / when the movie was made and nominated for the Oscars? How many of those people have servants in their homes? How many of them treat their servants the way The Help was treated in this book? How many admitted it?
I’d really love to know.