Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family.

Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.

This book was our book club selection for March. We all liked it very much. It inspired a great discussion of slavery and how a white girl could end up in such a situation. My ancestors are Irish and some of them could have been in a similar situation in Ireland during the potato famine. I know some of them came over on ships, but none than I know of ended up in the South. They arrived at New York or Boston. Many of them worked in the coal mines in West Virginia and others lived in Pittsburgh, PA and eastern Ohio. Some went as far as Chicago in the 20's. Anyway, my sister and I felt a connection to this Irish girl who was indentured to Captain Pyke. Our book club was interested in how the story actually got on paper as well. The author, Kathleen Grissom didn't want to write about slavery, but she felt compelled and the story, if she was true to her inspirations, came to her and demanded to be told. If she strayed from it, the inspiration was lost. Quite interesting to us. The actual story seemed quite sad to me. The reading of it moved along partly because the chapters alternated between Lavinia (the Irish girl) and Belle (a slave girl on the plantation and daughter to Captain Pyke), and because events kept happening that made you want to see the results. There were times when we just wanted to shout "No more secrets!" and "Just tell them!" I listened to the audiobook as I read which was very enjoyable to me. I like hearing the interpretations of the narrators. It makes the book come alive in a wonderful way. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and those interested in what happened in the South before the Civil War.

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