Being Irish I like to read stories featuring Irish lead characters and The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is historical fiction about an Irish orphan. The story follows the life of Lavinia on a plantation and the slave family she becomes part of. Recently a lot of novels have been about slavery and plantations such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett and the novel I recently reviewed The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. All are about different aspects of plantations/slavery but they are powerful stories that tell of family and a history that should not be forgotten.
The Kitchen House is about house slaves on a plantation in Virginia. Lavinia is brought to the plantation by the owner to work with the slaves. Not uncommon in history – from the early 1600s to 1800 many 1000s of Irish people were sold as slaves to the Caribbean and USA as part of the slave trade. Lavinia, however is a victim of circumstances as her parents die on the plantation owner’s ship on their journey to America. The story is told through Lavinia’s eyes and she works alongside the house slaves who shelter her from the full reality of slavery.
The house slave family work hard but they also have some influence over the owners of the plantation. Mama Mae is a strong character, fixes things when needed and the most amazing woman in this story. She has a son Ben, 2 daughters who Lavinia grows up with and looks after Belle also. They welcome Lavinia into their family and as we get to know this family we become a part of it and feel the emotion, warmth and heartfelt love they have for each-other. We really feel for them as even though they are family, they can be sold and split up by their owner. In contrast to this is Kathleen depicts how lonely the woman are in the big house.
Even though this is a story about a slave plantation, Kathleen doesn’t go into much detail of how the field slaves are treated and just hints at their treatment and also punishments. This is probably due to us following the house slaves who are slightly better off and also Lavinia’s tale. Lavinia doesn’t understand why she is different to the slaves she grew up with as they are her family. No-one ever tells her about the society she is growing up in. But her views really show that family and looking out for each-other is important, not status and whether you’re black or white and that is what makes this story so poignant and powerful.
I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone as it is a great read. Kathleen’s style of writing creates the atmosphere of a plantation and really brings the characters to life. She writes in a captivating way that you won’t want to put the book down and you will have a tear in your eye by the end!
Have you read this book or other books featuring plantations? I would love to hear what you thought.