Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in a lucrative Manhattan law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that can make her career: find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.
An unexpected lead comes from her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, who tells her about a controversy currently rocking the art world. Art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of slaves from her plantation Bell Creek, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine. A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the firm’s lawsuit—if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine’s fate following Lu Anne Bell’s death in 1852. Did Josephine die at Bell Creek? Was she sold? Or did she escape? Searching for clues in old letters and plantation records, Lina begins to piece together Josephine’s story—a journey that leads her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother’s mysterious death twenty years before.
Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and ask whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.