Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help

In my book club last year, one of the themes that continued to arise as we read books from many cultures was how we are perceived by the people we hire to help us in our homes. In The White Tiger, a Man Booker Award Winner, the main character lucks into a job working for a family as a driver. We see the people for whom he works from the inside, their sweet acts and all their flaws. We see how callous they can be, and, ultimately, how the driver takes his revenge and becomes his own boss. (Not one of my favorite books, but then again, I’m still thinking about it a year later, so there is something to be said for it.)

In Half of a Yellow Sun we saw an entirely different relationship (in a book I totally loved, BTW) between employer and employee, but it shared with White Tiger the aspect of employer as seen from the eyes of an employee inside the house who sees the family and all its interactions intimately.

The Help, a surprise best seller, does the same to 1960’s era Mississippi. A recent graduate from Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) starts interviewing the maids from local households, any maid that will talk to her. At first, no one will talk with her, but after traumatizing racial clashes, one by one, they share their stories. Just interviewing the maids, just the maids sharing their stories, is enough to bring on serious consequences.

First, the book is riveting. I have a million things I really REALLY need to be doing, and I can’t stop reading. There is something about peeking into your neighbors house, seeing how they behave when they think no one is looking, that appeals to the voyeur in each of us.

Second, these women are taking serious risks. I am on the edge of my chair with each reading, hoping nothing bad happens to them.

Third, there is something that makes you squirm, it is the old “wee giftie” that shows us the worst in ourselves as others might see us; our own hypocrisies, our condescensions, our patronizing acts, how cruel our charitable acts can appear through the eyes of others, and how callous we are in the end towards those who take care of us every day.

It has rocketed onto the best seller list, now the #6 best selling book on Amazon.

If your book club is looking for a book to read that will get you talking and keep you talking for a long time, this is one of the best.

If you have hired help in the house, I double-dog-dare-you to read this book. (OOps, sometimes the little Alaska girl in me pops back out!) Fair warning, though, once you start, you won’t want to put it down.

October 8, 2009 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Family Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues

7 Comments »

  1. I’m reading White Tiger now and it’s been taking me ages because frankly it’s not my cup o’ tea so I put it down a lot and don’t come back to reading it until much later. It’s not awful either, it just tends to test my patience sometimes. Even the cheekiness of the narrator, which I found really intriguing in the beginning, gets a little obnoxious or annoying as you keep reading. I don’t know I’ll give it more of a chance and see.

    You are so lucky to have a book club in Qatar! I’ve never been part of a book club but what a cool idea.

    Comment by 1001 Nights | October 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. White Tiger was not my cup of tea, either, but it made for a fascinating discussion, ending with the (group) conclusion that liking or not-liking the main character doesn’t necessarily matter when evaluating a book, it’s whether the book makes you think, and White Tiger did. I agree with you, but he wasn’t just cheeky – he had no loyalty to anyone! He wasn’t sending any of his money home, he wasn’t really serving the people he was hired to serve . . . I found him despicable!

    I was also in a book club in Kuwait! A friend came to me and asked me to organize it. I did. We all learned a lot of surprising things about one another, and we had some really spirited discussions. The secret is to have people who aren’t all thinking the same way. So, dear one . . . have at it! Start a chick-bloggers group. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 10, 2009 | Reply

  3. It’s too hard to trust people enough for that. Plus I don’t generally enjoy listening to just anyone and I certainly don’t find EVERYONE who’s different to be interesting, I find people like YOU to be interesting interesting and there’s no YOU in Kuwait any more. Alas you deserted us for the Qataris! 😛

    I haven’t thought about that liking/not liking the main character thing. But I believe that you can definitely enjoy a book without enjoying the main character. However, there’s a difference between judging the character and judging his/her voice. Does that make any sense? I mean someone can be interesting even in their level of evil and selfishness but annoying people are just annoying. Their voice and what they have to say loses it’s intrigue because their very presentation of their thoughts is annoying. I’m not necessarily saying this about White Tiger I do plan to give it more of a chance… we shall see!

    Comment by 1001 Nights | October 10, 2009 | Reply

  4. 1001, don’t worry about my opinion. I hated White Tiger. One thing I find about book clubs – and something I like – it’s like eating oatmeal. It’s good for me. It forces me to read books I wouldn’t otherwise read, and to listen politely to opinions I disagree with violently.

    And then, I have to ask myself, what is it that makes me react so strongly?

    The people I hang around with may look different from me on the outside, but the reason we hang out is that on the inside we tend to share some core values. In a book club, sometimes your core values are challenged. Living in Kuwait, living in Qatar, sometimes my beliefs are challenged – and, overall, I find it a good thing, a good thing for ME, to have to stretch a little.

    In The Help, the main character discovers some surprising things about people she has known for a long long time. One woman supports her, a woman she had always thought of as weak and shallow turns out to be much stronger – and dealing with unknown challenges every day of her life. It is an awesome book.

    Yes. There can be a difference between judging the character and judging the voice. You are exactly right. Does your book have the questions in the back? I found they helped me to understand some of what I was reading and not to miss important points because I was annoyed with the character.

    Comment by intlxpatr | October 11, 2009 | Reply

  5. […] thank you to my friend Intlxpatr for recommending this book. I finished it at 3 AM this morning and am still thinking about […]

    Pingback by Sonderbooks » Blog Archive » Review of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett | November 22, 2009 | Reply

  6. Reading “The Help” and can’t put it down. Hard to read while taking care of the girls! Thank you for the recommendation. I can’t wait for it to hit the theatres here

    Comment by Q8Dutchie | September 22, 2011 | Reply

  7. The movie sticks closely to the book, Dutchie. Actually, I loved how they captured the clothing, cars, manners, social life, etc. I thought they did a great job. The book is about a bully as much as it is about a time of social transition, but don’t bullies always need someone a step-down so that they can feel superior?

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 22, 2011 | Reply


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