Millions have read Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel The Help with a mixture of fascination and raw, often tearful, emotion.
Based on the lives of black servants in America’s Southern states of the Sixties, it is a sharply observed portrait of a racially charged, segregationist world that some might say has barely passed.
It has also proved a literary phenomenon, selling five million copies worldwide, 500,000 of them in Britain.
And next month Disney’s film version will open here. When Abilene Cooper picked up her copy, however, her reaction was rather different. Instead of sympathy for the characters of The Help, there was anger and devastation.
As she turned the pages she came to believe that the story at the heart of the book – an unlikely friendship between a white girl and a black maid – was her own. Her life, she believes, has been stolen, without acknowledgment or payment.
Certainly the name is hers, although in the book the heroine is spelt Aibileen. The city, Jackson, Mississippi, is correct, and like the characters in The Help, she has spent much of her life working in white households.
Intriguingly, these include the household of Kathryn Stockett’s brother and sister-in-law, where she has been a maid and nanny for 12 years( smhCollapse )