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The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House (2010)

by Kathleen Grissom

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,9081932,945 (3.96)158
  1. 50
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Blogletter)
    Blogletter: Zowel Het Keukenhuis door Kathleen Grissom als Een keukenmeidenroman door Kathryn Stocket gaan over slavernij in Amerika.
  2. 30
    Someone Knows My Name: A Novel by Lawrence Hill (Anonymous user, vancouverdeb)
    Anonymous user: Both The Kitchen House and the Book of Negroes are about Black Slavery in the South. They are different, but provide an eye opening look at Black Slavery.
  3. 10
    Oonagh by Mary Tilberg (Iudita)
    Iudita: Historical fiction about indentured servants.
  4. 21
    The Color Purple by Alice Walker (varwenea)
  5. 00
    The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (shearon)
  6. 00
    Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball (dara85)
  7. 00
    Cane River by Lalita Tademy (dara85)
  8. 00
    Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim (susiesharp)
    susiesharp: this is also a tale of the south and slavery but this one is not as depressing as The Kitchen House but has a similar feel.
  9. 01
    The Long Song by Andrea Levy (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Similar themes: black slaves, a young woman who works within the "White Master's" Plantation house.Slavery,Freedom from slavery; both wonderfully written. Divided loyalities, a fiesty female slave.
  10. 01
    Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town by Jacqueline Guidry (varwenea)
  11. 01
    The Ways of White Folks: Stories by Langston Hughes (varwenea)
  12. 01
    Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (varwenea)

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» See also 158 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 193 (next | show all)
This book was intense. So much happened in what seemed like really short page spans, barely giving time to recover from one tragedy to another. But there's this ending that isn't really happy, but feels right, like the world will be ok after all. So satisfying. ( )
  Wordbrarian | Mar 5, 2019 |
In the late 1700's, Irish seven-year-old Lavinia voyages to America. Along the way, she loses her parents, who were indentured to the owner of a Southern plantation. Thus she finds herself living in the plantation's "kitchen house" with the slaves, and they become her family despite her white skin. The novel alternates between the retrospective point of view of Lavinia and the real-time point of view of Belle, a half-white slave who becomes a surrogate mother/sister to Lavinia. Through multiple tragedies and fewer triumphs, Lavinia and Belle remain loyal to each other. But the between free and slave, white and black, is not a safe one.

The author's research into the time period is meticulous. I did feel a bit of a vacuum concerning the politics. Surely even an insular plantation would have been concerned with national events? But otherwise, the setting is detailed and immersing, including not only physical details (food, furniture, etc.) but also the assumptions and attitudes of people who lived then.

The story itself is a good one, but Lavinia's method of looking back isolates the reader from the action. She summarizes huge sections of her life, which is necessary to a point, given how much time passes during this novel (about 15 years). But she also summarizes conversations or events that should be structured as immediate scenes with action and dialogue, such as (p. 20):

I began to keep aside a bit of my evening meal, and in the morning I could hardly wait to give Ben my offering. He never failed to show surprise and always ate it with a great show of pleasure. One day, in return, Ben presented me with a bird nest he had found.

Also (p. 194):

...[H]e ... announced his disfavor of women studying Latin. Meg quickly replied that immature men with strong opinions were, by her estimation, very dull indeed. There was a long silence ... I fought unsuccessfully to recall a favorable subject to engage our stunned guests.

Summaries like this occur throughout the entire book and deaden the tension. Even the final page suffers from this technique.

Had Lavinia's point of view been styled more like Belle's, I might have really connected with this book (I'll never know). Many of the characters remain more archetype than individual, yet none of them is flawless, even as they face abuse with grace and predicament with resourcefulness. They outwardly fight for their humanity when they can and inwardly cling to it when they can't. But the excessive summaries kept pushing me away from the characters and dulling the power of the events.

When I finished it, I realized that The Kitchen House had interested me but never fully engaged my emotions. I didn't resolve not to read Ms. Grissom again, but it's been a couple years now and I haven't been driven to find out if she has another novel out. Probably the best indication of my response to this book. ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |
What a great read. I would recommend for all book clubs! ( )
  BookLove80 | Feb 21, 2019 |
Kathleen Grissom's debut novel about slavery in the South in the late 1700's, early 1800's is a thought-provoking look at life on a tobacco plantation in that both shocks and saddens us. We meet the white owners, the black slaves, and the indentured servant, with whom we "experience" her growth into womanhood.

The story is told in the voice of two of the main characters but it is easy to follow. Lavinia is the first voice, the main character, an Irish orphaned 7-year old girl brought in to live and work with the negroes in the Kitchen House. At that time the kitchens were commonly in a separate house away from the main house. When she is brought onto the plantation by the white owner, she does not remember the trauma that orphaned her on a shipful of Irish immigrants. The black servants become her family. Belle, one of the black slaves, is the secondary narrator who becomes a mother-figure to Lavinia and her story is typical as to what mulatto (half-white, half-black) women had to deal with in that era, as white owners took advantage of black women who sired children as a result.

The Captain, Miss Martha, Marshall, and his little sister live in the Big House. Lavinia lives in the Kitchen House with Belle, but becomes "Family" with Mama Mae, Papa George, Ben, Dorrie, and the twins. Marshall, the white son of the owners, is a major character in this saga as well, and as a reader you will struggle with your feelings of heartbreak, pity and hatred for him as his character is formed throughout the novel. His story alone will make you weep. As the story progresses, the Captain dies and Marshall takes over the plantation. Unfortunately, he has taken up with the old overseer who had been dismissed by The Captain, Mr. Rankin and this leads him down a dark path.

All of the characters are developed very well, you will not easily forget them. The historical background in Virginia of that era is depicted accurately. Totally believable and thoroughly researched. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction. ( )
  Carlathelibrarian | Feb 5, 2019 |
Well written story about early colonial times in Virginia, and how the plantation owners lives intertwined with those of their servants. Lavinia and Belle are two strong women, they are the narrators of the story. Mama Mae is a guiding light in their lives. ( )
  rmarcin | Jan 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 193 (next | show all)
Though there are several compelling insights in The Kitchen House, it’s nevertheless a formulaic story. There are graphic shocks, but no surprises.
added by lkernagh | editQuill & Quire, Sara Forsyth (Mar 1, 2010)
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For my beloved parents, Ted and Catherine Doepker, and for my dear mentor, Eleanor Drewry Dolan
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There was a strong smell of smoke, and new fear fueled me.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
After seven-year-old Lavinia is orphaned on the journey from Ireland to the United States, she begins work in the kitchen house of a tobacco plantation and bonds with the slaves who become her adopted family, but when Lavinia is accepted into the big house, her loyalties are challenged.
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"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. "--Publisher's description.… (more)

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