Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

This book was very sad in parts, but I still enjoyed the very realistic story of the lives of an indentured servant and the slaves on a Virginia tobacco plantation at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Seven year old Lavinia is orphaned aboard the ship her family travels on to escape Ireland for the United States.  Torn away from her brother, she is taken on as a servant by the captain of the ship who gives her to his illegitimate slave daughter to train.  Completely traumatized at first, Lavinia does not speak and is unable to hold down food but is slowly nursed to health by the house slaves who she eventually adopts as her Mama, Papa and siblings.  While young and naive, her relationship with the slaves is easy and familial.  But as she ages she begins to see how she must sit separately from them in Church and witnesses their abuse at the hands of a cruel manager and the captain's son.

When the captain dies, his wife who is already addicted to opium, descends into madness and is taken to Williamsburg with her sister and brother-in-law.  Because she is attached to Lavinia, she accompanies them, befriends their daughter Meg and is taught lessons, both academic and how to act as a "white lady".  All the time she pines for her black family.  At age 20 she finally returns to the plantation - but in a different capacity, as the lady of the "big house".  Her husband forces her to keep her distance from her black family, but when she is shattered by secrets about her husband, they prove their loyalty to her.  And Lavinia must decide where her loyalties lie.

I do not want to give the ending away, because this is a really well written, enjoyable book and I recommend you read it on your own.  There are some fabulous characters - particularly Mama and Papa, Belle, Meg and Lavinia herself.  For the most part the white men are not as sympathetic though Will Stephens is the exception.

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