Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I know a book is going to be great when one of two things happen, either I am laughing out loud agreeing with everything, or I'm crying.
This book has done what only one other has in the past, had me crying less then ten pages in.The first paragraph of the Kitchen House is fast paced and seems to grab at your throat, hooking you and forcing you to pay attention to the lead character. 

Plot:  Lavinia is an Irish orphan who is brought home to a plantation, where she's given to the kitchen staff.  A white girl in the middle of the 1700's working and living as if she is black. Belle, her new adoptive mother, is the daughter of the plantation owner, but banished to the servants quarters. Both find themselves struggling to live a life torn between these two worlds. As each grows into her own identity, she must face the outside world that is no bigger then the farm they are indebted to. 

This story unfolds in the voices of both women, each chapter a parallel of the one before it, giving you a view from the "big house" (Lavinia)  and the smaller "kitchen house" (Belle).  This novel is not for the weak of spirit. There were moments where I was shocked at passages but loved the fact the author Kathleen Grissom was not afraid to explore the territory. 

Rape, incest, slavery, addiction, faith, hope. 

The story itself covers only a part of their lives, roughly twenty years, but weaves a tapestry that covers more. Not since Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints, have I come across a novel that dared to speak honestly about a time in history that helped to change the structure of things. There were moments when my mind was drawn to a comparison of Jane Austen's  Mansfield Park in the lighter sense, of Lavinia's own improved "banishment" to a more wealthy aunt and uncle.

 As I read this, I found myself asking the questions "what are we willing to do for love? How far are we willing to go? What secrets are we willing to keep? What boundaries are we willing to cross? And what would you do for your family to keep them safe?"

The novel is hauntingly beautiful in it's own spirit and gracious in it's unapologetic tone.

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