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Boeke | Books > Kennisgewings | Notices > English

The Help picks up coveted Boeke Award


2009-10-09

Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, swept the boards at the 2009 Exclusive Books Boeke Prize Awards, held at a glamorous lunch for bibliophiles at Pomodoro in the new Morningside Shopping Centre on Tuesday 6 October 2009.

The awards were the culmination of a six week competition in which top book reviewers and Exclusive Books Fanatics members were asked to read the following six shortlisted titles and to then vote for their favourite reads:

  • The Help, Kathryn Stockett (Penguin, R200)
  • Testimony, Anita Shreve (Penguin, R123)
  • The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Jonathan Ball, R244)
  • People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks (Jonathan Ball, R128)
  • The Children’s Book, AS Byatt (Random House Struik, R219)
  • The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, Reif Larsen (Random House Struik, R219)

The Help stole Fanatics and journalists’ hearts, scooping first place by a large margin of over 40% of the votes, followed by The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and The Children’s Book, by AS Byatt in third place.

The Help is set in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, a place where lines are clearly drawn and never crossed. A place where black women, like wise Aibiteen and sassy Minny, raise white babies and sassy fat Minny cook in kitchens while white madams play bridge or belong to the Junior League where bossy bullies, like Hilly, rule the roost. It is a place where black women have no voice and where the likes of Hilly decide who is allowed into society circles and who should be snubbed. But Jackson is also a place where things are starting to change ...

Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from ‘Ole Miss’. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women--mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends--view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the rules by which we abide, and those we don't.

The Help is the story of women divided by race and class, but essentially with the same aspirations, fears and hopes. It is also the story of women who take control of their lives and change it for the better.

Boeke judge Kate Turkington from 702, voiced an overriding sentiment with her comment:“The Help is not only a wonderful, unputdownable read, but its story of the relationships between the black maids who raise the white children, and who love them so much; and the closed, bigoted society of the white madams, most of whom don’t appreciate their ‘help’, can’t but fail to resonate with all South Africans who remember their own lives during the apartheid years. The stories will touch you, move you and stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.”

Before the winner was announced, Barry Ronge hosted a lively and entertaining debate about the Boeke selection and what constitutes an unputdownable “must-read” with Bruce Dennill from The Citizen and Vivien Horler from The Cape Argus.

Further Judges’ comments on The Help:

“Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ has significant resonance for those brought up in SA, often spending a great deal of time being brought up by black ‘nannies’ or ‘help’. The complex and complicated relationships between these women, their employers and their charges are skilfully drawn and the many issues that emerge are dealt with courageously” - Fiona Ramsay

“Many uncomfortable echoes for white South African readers and presumably many black domestics also. My only criticism of the book is, would the first domestic - her name has gone right out of my head and I don't have the book with me at the moment - have actually cooperated? I thought she probably wouldn't have. Or maybe just I wouldn't have. But a great book, probably going to be my number one: unputdownable. Great characters.” - Vivien Horler, Cape Argus

“It’s a love-it-or-hate-it novel, isn’t it? I think I’d have loved it if I were a woman... but I’m not, so I didn’t. Not entirely. It’s a brave novel, make no mistake. But if you’re going to set yourself up before a critical firing squad (which Stockett has done here) then you need to wear a bulletproof vest. It’s the sort of book that invites – no, demands – a critical read. By not being entirely flawless, I fear it will be remembered as being a touch too flawed. That’s a shame.”.- Mark van Dijk, Men’s Health

The Help features a moving examination of themes most South Africans are only too familiar with.” - Bruce Dennill, The Citizen

“Such a well written book, the Help touched me deeply with its universal themes and brilliant characterization.” - Melinda Ferguson, True Love

“Number one in my recommendations to academic friends.” - Mary Jordan, Business Day

“This was extremely well-written: restrained and well-crafted, and I found the characters were well-developed and credible. It was risky for the author to write in the voice of black women, but judging by other books which have been written by black women, I think she did it very well. I thought the story unfolded slowly and believably, as did the characters. A really excellent book.” -Suzy Brokensha, Fairlady

“In a country like South Africa where there are domestic workers in most (white) homes, The Help is a must-read to help us women realise ‘we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.’” - Adele Dempers, Volksblad

“The book ranges between the funny and the horrific, and the fact that Skeeter is the heroine and obviously the one least at risk because she can get away if she has to, is partly compensated for by the ironic tone Stockett uses. It is a very accomplished first novel, and in an afterword, Stockett admits that as a white woman, writing in a black voice is a risky thing to do, something that had nagged at me as I was reading. Although dealing in a field that is rife with stereotyping, by and large Stockett succeeds: maybe my niggling doubts come from living in a country where the same wounds are more raw than in America. Read it yourself and decide.” - Margaret von Klemperer, The Witness

“Three very strong women. All refusing to do as society said they should. My kind of book. Minnie , Skeeter and Aibileen faced incredibly harsh realities head-on and with such humor and hopefulness. It’s about injustice, friendship and the dying days of institutionalized racism in America.” - Maryanne Hancock, Exclusive Books Events and Customer coordinator

Information about the Author:

Kathryn Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduating from the University of Alabama, she moved to New York City, where she worked in magazine publishing and marketing for nine years. She currently lives in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. The Help is Kathryn’s first novel and is garnering the most amazing reviews from around the world. Visit http://www.kathrynstockett.com/.

About Boeke in general:

Now in its 15 th year, the Boeke Prize has become a highly coveted award in the publishing industry and sets off discussion and fierce debate among book lovers and reviewers alike, as they review and vote for their favourite read.

The Boeke Prize is the almost impossible search for what makes a book absolutely unputdownable, and then to determine which book is the most unputdownable of all. A panel of 40 book reviewers from the media must decide which book they believe is the ultimate page-turner: the most compulsive, riveting good read. The judges consider each book’s originality, freshness, readability and accessibility to anyone who enjoys a really good book.

Launched in 1995 by Exclusive Books, the Boeke Prize was conceived as a light-hearted dig at the celebrated Man Booker Prize. The Boeke Awards honour the top English fiction published in the preceding year. These novels have literary merit and moreover are compelling reads that suck you into their world, and stay with you long after the last pages are read.