"The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom is a great “escape” read. You will be transported and completely immersed in the story. But its also an intimate look into the life or death details of living with slavery.
“The Kitchen House” follows the life of a young Irish orphan, Lavinia, who is made a slave to a wealthy plantation owner in Virginia.
The colored slaves take her in as one of their own, even though they know she can never really be one of them because she is white and that is enough to make a difference. But she grows up blind to the difference of skin color. And therein lies the crux of the story. Society eventually tries to separate her and teach her where she belongs but nobody is quite sure where that is.
She feels a deep kinship with her slave family and they for her. But she is eventually assigned to the house to care for the ailing mistress. The master is a kind man but is often absent, leaving responsibility for the house and slaves to an abusive field manager, and his children to an abusive tutor.
The characters are compelling. Every one of them. There is a large cast, running the risk of stereotypes which does happen to some degree. There is enough character growth in the main characters to forgive the flat characters.
By the end, it almost begins to feel like a soap opera with all the inter-connections of slaves and owners and the traps of misunderstanding and crossed paths. And perhaps it really was that way?
One of the most painful parts for me to read was how trapped everyone was in their roles. Even with good intentions, good peopled were forced to be silent and pressed to inaction. And the evils of slavery persisted. I found myself even feeling sympathy for one of the antagonists. That’s good storytelling. And its tragic and heart wrenching and hard to put down.
I really enjoyed thinking about and trying to understand the motivation of the characters, why they chose to do certain things. What would I have done in the situation? Would I be strong or weak? And what really is strong or weak when faced with a situation like they were in? Being led to these reflections and discussions with friends in our book club is what made this book so great!