Reviews for Housemaid's Daughter

Booklist Reviews 2013 October #2
*Starred Review* Irish émigré Cathleen Harrington settles in the small town of Craddock in South Africa in 1919, where she marries the reticent Edward. Feeling lonely and isolated, she forges a unique bond with black housemaid Ada, whom she teaches to read and write and play the piano. Their relationship deepens over their shared passion for classical music, especially since Cathleen's own daughter exhibits none of her mother's generous spirit. But when Ada finds herself in a compromising position, she leaves the household, hiding herself in a nearby black township, where she secures a position as a music teacher. There she is forced to confront the racial tensions of apartheid, which she had previously been sheltered from due to her privileged existence. In this moving first novel, Mutch's lilting prose summons the stark South African landscape, making readers feel the heat of the Karoo Desert and fear the rising waters of the Groot Vis. More than that, Mutch conveys the joys of dancing and music, the exultation of hope and courage, and the pain of being ostracized for one's skin color. Rich in detail and subtle in its politics, this affecting novel tells a poignant, inspiring story. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 October #2
South Africa before, during and after apartheid, portrayed through the eyes of a black woman and, to a lesser extent, the white woman who becomes her benefactor as well as her employer. In 1919, Cathleen Harrington leaves Ireland and starts a new life in South Africa with her fiance, Edward, who has already settled at Cradock House in the town of Cradock in the semi-desert area called the Karoo. In 1930, Cathleen's unmarried black South African maid, Miriam, who has become Cathleen's close if unequal friend, gives birth to a daughter she names Ada after Cathleen's sister back in Ireland. While devoted to her own children, sweet-natured Phil and hardhearted Rosemary, Cathleen takes Ada under her wing, teaching her to read and play the piano. Ada, a gifted musician, is in turn devoted to Cathleen, who regularly leaves her intimate diary open with the tacit understanding that Ada will read it. While Rosemary treats Ada with cold propriety (perhaps understandable given Cathleen's clear preference for Ada over her own daughter), sensitive Phil seems remarkable, even naïvely colorblind in his affection for Ada. By the time he hugs her goodbye before leaving to fight in World War II, his friendship has romantic overtones, although it remains pure. It is adolescent Ada who nurses him when he returns. Unfortunately, Phil never comes to life as an actual character before his early death, so the unconsummated romance feels more perfunctory than tragic. More believable is Cathleen's passionless marriage to Edward. After Edward behaves abhorrently toward Ada, she runs away in shame. But she eventually returns, remaining as committed to Cathleen and Cradock House as she is to her friends, family and comrades in the black township as they suffer increasingly harsh laws before rising in victorious defiance. In creating a white Lady Bountiful and a wise but unworldly black servant, South African Mutch has more in common with The Help's Kathryn Stockett than Doris Lessing or Nadine Gordimer. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 July #1

Cathleen Harrington hadn't seen her fiancé, Edward, for five years when she traveled from Ireland to South Africa in 1919 to marry him. She makes the best of a loveless situation in a harsh desert environment by writing in her diary and befriending first her housemaid and then the housemaid's mixed-race daughter, Ada, whom she teaches to play the piano and bonds with in a way she cannot with her husband and her own daughter. When Ada disappears, Cathleen must decide whether to challenge convention by trying to find her. South African-born Mutch's debut received UK raves, with rights sold to a dozen countries; here she's benefiting from big in-house buzz.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 October #2

A shared love of the piano brings two women together across the racial divide of apartheid South Africa in Mutch's debut novel. Growing up as a servant in a white household, Ada is particularly cherished by the mistress of the house, Cathleen, who teaches Ada how to play the piano and to read despite her husband's objections. Later forced by tragic events to leave, Ada struggles to survive in a society increasingly violently divided by race and wonders if she and her biracial daughter will ever find another place to feel truly at home. VERDICT Readers who loved Kathryn Stockett's The Help may also appreciate this historical tale of female friendship across racial lines, though this is a more relentlessly dark read. Mutch's characters are not very complex, but her setting is a fascinating one, and she does an excellent job of showing the horrifying effects of apartheid law on individual lives. The book may hold special appeal for music fans thanks to the numerous classical and South African jazz pieces lovingly referenced throughout. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]--Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 October #2

Mutch's sprawling debut spans five decades of South Africa's richest--and most painful--history. The eponymous housemaid's daughter, Ada Mabuse, has grown up in the household of Edward and Cathleen Harrington, at an estate named Cradock House. As a black South African, Ada has few opportunities outside of the estate, and she eventually succeeds her mother as housekeeper. But "Mrs. Cath" loves her like one of her own children, teaching her to read and play the piano. When Cathleen is called away for a few weeks, Mr. Harrington exploits 17-year-old Ada's sense of duty. Pregnant with Mr. Harrington's child, Ada flees to the nearby township, where she eventually gives birth to a baby girl named Dawn. With her light skin and eyes, the baby is regarded as neither black nor white. Under new laws, Dawn's very existence is illegal, and the brutality of the emerging apartheid state leaves Ada in constant fear for her daughter's safety. Eventually, she returns to the relative safety of Cradock House, but the shifting political climate and the passage of time make it hard for Ada to cling to the life and home she thought would never change. Interludes from Cathleen's diary, intended to supply an additional perspective, are a bit heavy-handed, as is the predictable (and bleak) ending. But a vividly drawn setting and Ada's consistent, special voice drive the story and keep the pages turning. First printing of 50,000 copies. (Dec.)

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