Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Title: The Kitchen House
Author: Kathleen Grissom
ISBN: 978-1439153666
Publisher: Touchstone/2010
Pages: 368

Book Blurb:

In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk. The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.

My views:

The premise interested me because of a white girl working as an indentured servant with black slaves. I had not read any other book on that. Lavinia has no memories other than random dreams of a family she had, before she was brought to the tobacco plantation by the owner, Captain Pyke. She is to be trained as servant under the care of Belle, who is the illegitimate daughter of the Captain.
Lavinia and Belle develop a bonding over the years.

Told in alternate voices of Lavinia and Belle, we get deep insights into the lives of slaves, and their relationship with their masters. Belle's voice is logical, practical and she is not afraid to narrate the unpleasantness. Lavinia is emotional and wavers at times. I think that is normal as she is younger and has not found her footing in the initial few years. Lavinia is taken in by both the Pyke's family and the slaves working in the Kitchen House.

The Captain is seldom home and his wife, Martha, is sickly, mainly due to addiction to opium. A tragedy befalls, which makes Martha almost lose her mind. That's when we see Lavinia getting closer to her. She too comes to like Lavinia. When the Captain dies, Lavinia is sent to Martha's sister and here we see her getting some sort of education. However, Lavinia is always wishing to go back to the Tall Oaks, which she eventually does after marrying Captain Pyke's son, Marshall Pyke. When she discovers his drunkenness and infidelities, it is very late. Now the slaves are no longer the family she always had. She is torn apart by all this happenings.

Belle, despite being the Captain's daughter doesn't get her due. Infact she is brutally raped by Marshall, who thinks that she had always been his father's mistress. With other characters like Will Stephens, Mama Mae, which are essential for the development of the novel, we see the various dilemmas between the two worlds. The worlds, which can't be merged, no matter how hard one tries. Despite love, honour and so much more. And that is the tragedy.

Written in a interesting manner, this novel is fast paced and not something to be forgotten easily. I simply had to read it at one go.

Thanks to the author for the ARC.


Jo-Jo said...

What a great review...this sounds like one that I definitely need to read.

Jenny Q said...

I thought this book was really well-written and a real page turner, but overall it was too dark for me. I kept hoping Lavinia was going to grow up and that Marshall was going to redeem himself, but to no avail!

fredamans said...

Beautifully written review! I had a feeling this book was special. Definitely on my wish list!

bermudaonion said...

It sounds like this book really pulled you in! I'm looking forward to reading it.