Keeper of the House

July 3, 2008

This short enjoyable book is more memorable for the narrator’s dialect than for the simple story it tells. We follow the life of an African-American girl across the 20th century as it unfolds in a “house of prostitution” in South Carolina. The girl is the housekeeper, and while her role at the house evolves, she is never a prostitute herself. She is also never strongly connected with any aspect of the civil rights movement. Geographic isolation, vocational isolation, and lack of education all combine to keep her from making contact with the greatest domestic struggle of her times.

Although the story is simple and bland, it is told in language that is arresting and rich. The Keeper of the House speaks a version of English known as Gullah, but the author, Rebecca T. Godwin, tells us, “I have taken liberties with the Gullah dialect of lowcountry South Carolina, intending to convey the richness, music, and humor of the language while retaining its accessibility for people unfamiliar with its patterns.” Since I have no direct experience with Gullah myself, I will have to take the author at her word. The book is an easy read and perhaps authentic Gullah would have been impenetrable.

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