WHAT YOU OWE ME by Bebe Moore Campbell


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An Imitation of Life saga of two cleaning ladies, one black, one white.

Newly arrived in postwar Los Angeles from rural Texas, Hosanna Clark befriends Holocaust survivor Gilda Rosenstein. Both women toil for subsistence wages at a fleabag hotel, their friendship hampered by Gilda’s limited English and Hosanna’s suspicion of white people. Hosanna is impressed, however, by Gilda’s fragile strength, and Gilda, drawn to Hosanna’s hard-working cheerfulness. She concocts a special lotion for Hosanna’s ashy skin, and Hosanna quickly realizes its potential. The women scrimp and save to bottle the lotion, which Hosanna peddles to friends and fellow churchgoers, eventually going door-to-door. Gilda handles the business side, opening a checking account and banking their profits. Hosanna is heartbroken when the account is cleaned out and Gilda disappears. But she provides for her daughters Matriece and Vonette before a flash-forward reveals that Hosanna has died, although she remains a beneficent ghostly presence to Matriece, an up-and-coming marketing executive at Gilda’s million-dollar company, in charge of Brown Sugar, a new cosmetics line for black women. Gilda, now in her 70s, still feels guilt about Hosanna—and the bank account her first husband forced her to close. She doesn’t know that Matriece is Hosanna’s daughter, but she’s impressed by the young woman’s savvy and drive. Matriece, meantime, must choose between Montgomery, scion of a wealthy, influential black family, and Sam, a born-again ex-con who turns out to be the father of Asia Pace, a troubled young hip-hop diva who can’t decide whether she wants to be the spokesmodel for Brown Sugar. Eventually, Hosanna’s old friend and lover, a barbecue-restaurant entrepreneur, will uncover the facts behind Gilda’s long-ago betrayal—and threaten—to reveal all.

Another warmhearted, carefully crafted, if not especially original story from Campbell (Singing in the Comeback Choir, 1998, etc.).

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-14784-5
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001


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