Sunday 16 April 2023

Book ~ "The Kitchen House" (2010) Kathleen Grissom

From Goodreads ~ 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.

In the late 1700s, seven-year-old Lavinia and her family are sailing from Ireland to the States for a better life. Her parents pass away during the voyage and when Lavinia and her brother arrive in the States, her brother is sold and she never sees him again. Lavinia is sent to a plantation where she lives and works with the slaves in the kitchen house. They become her family and she doesn't realize that she is different in that she is white.

As Lavinia gets older, the white owners of the plantation start to treat her a bit different ... she is taught to read and write, at church she is to sit up front with the white folk rather than standing in the back with black folk, etc. But Lavinia still doesn't realize she is different. She eventually is removed from the house and groomed to be a lady and marries well, or so everyone thinks.

This was a dreary book ... there isn't much happiness. It's written in first person perspective in Lavinia and Belle's (Lavinia's black "adopted mother") voices. There is a lot of violence ... black women being used by white men when results in lots of babies which become slaves themselves, families are ripped apart when members are sold, male slaves are taught lessons by being brutally beaten, etc. The master of the plantation is nice and caring but he's not around a lot as he has business to attend to. His wife has health issues and isn't mentally there. The plantation manager is stereotypically mean and abusive. After all that happened, I found the ending disappointing ... I was hoping for a happier one.

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