The Kitchen House
By Kathleen Grissom
Set in the late 1700s and early 1800s, The Kitchen House tells the story of an Irish orphan, Lavinia, who is taken by a ship’s captain to serve as a servant on a Virgina tobacco plantation. Lavinia lives with the slaves of the kitchen house – she plays with the young slave children, does chores for the kitchen, is trained to cook, and gradually becomes part of their family.
When tragedy strikes at the Big House, Lavinia earns a place up there, caring for the children. She becomes a fixture at the Big House when she becomes one of the only people who can console the physically and mentally unstable mistress of the house. From then on, Lavinia is given opportunities that gradually take her further and further away from her adopted family, and into the world of the wealthy.
Review/Recommendation: I found The Kitchen House a very emotional read. It didn’t shy away from some of the harsh realities of slavery – rape, beatings, the selling of family members – which was hard when the slaves were the characters I cared about the most. But the compassion I felt for the characters and my involuntarily cringing when I knew something bad was going to happen, speaks to Grissom’s success in pulling the reader into the story.
The kindness and fierce loyalty shown by the characters was amazing and transcended races. The slaves not only watched out for one another and Lavinia but they also kept an eye on the children of the house and the mistress… to make sure they were not wronged in any way (and they were). And as Lavinia got older, she did the same for her adopted family. Hard decisions had to be made, but the internal struggle over whether (and how) to help while balancing a some sense of self-preservation was clear.
I thoroughly enjoyed Grissom’s first novel. While not the happiest read, I’m glad I finally picked it up off my bookshelf and gave it a try.