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The Kitchen House: A Novel | [Kathleen Grissom]

The Kitchen House: A Novel

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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

In The Kitchen House, author Kathleen Grissom weaves together the stories of two women: Lavinia, an Irish immigrant who, in 1791, arrives alone in America at 7-years-old and becomes an indentured servant on a Virginia tobacco plantation, and Belle, the slave who takes care of her. Narrators Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin (known for her work as Minny in The Help) alternate chapters, so listeners get the same story from two very different perspectives — both with their own unique voice. Both Lavinia’s Irish accent and Belle’s southern dialect are smooth and authentic, and as both characters interact with the same group of people, the narrators keep the secondary voices consistent; they can manage the white-collar accent of a Philadelphia society girl, the dangerous undertones of a malicious slave owner, and the distinctive voices of each of the plantation’s slaves with equal confidence.

Grissom, who says she was inspired by her own modern-day renovation of a Virginia plantation, fills the novel with careful details, historical touches, and believable racial and political tensions. As Lavinia grows up, she finds herself caught between the slaves that raised her and the white world that waits for her — and her tone, naïve and uncomprehending when she’s not allowed to sit with her black friends in church as a child, matures along with her. She sounds weary and resigned (though still optimistic) when, as an adult, she faces similar challenges. As Belle navigates complicated relationships with her lover, parents, and siblings, the reading remains convincing, emotional, and satisfying. And when a generation of closely-held secrets leads to danger — and tragedy — for both women, each is forced to choose where her loyalties lay. —Blythe Copeland

Publisher's Summary

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.

The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.

©2010 Kathleen Grissom (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Forget Gone With the Wind. Belle and Lavinia, the heroines in this novel, will make Scarlett seem like a wimp in comparison….Together they narrate a story that grabs the reader and demands to be devoured. Wow.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“[Grissom’s] debut twists the conventions of the antebellum novel....Provides a trove of tension and grit, while the many nefarious doings will keep readers hooked to the twisted, yet hopeful, conclusion.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Kathleen Grissom peers into the plantation romance through the eyes of a white indentured servant inhabiting the limbo land between slavery and freedom, providing a tale that provokes new empathy for all working and longing in The Kitchen House.” (Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Rebel Yell)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Margaret Goodlettsville, TN, United States 12-10-11
    Margaret Goodlettsville, TN, United States 12-10-11 Member Since 2010
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    "For the love of all things Holy, READ THIS!!!"
    Would you listen to The Kitchen House again? Why?

    Yes! It's such a great story!


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Momma Mae. Her inspired wisdom tendered with compassion warmth and strength is so embraceable. But...all the characters are unique. Good or bad, they're there with each facet clearly reflecting their well developed characters.


    Have you listened to any of Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No.


    If you could take any character from The Kitchen House out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Rankin...so I could poison him.


    Any additional comments?

    Loved every minute of this book. Everyone should read this book. What's not to love! If I could give it 10 stars I would.

    17 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret United States 04-10-11
    Margaret United States 04-10-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Jane Eyre meets Gone with the Wind"

    I ended this book with very mixed feelings - it was riveting enough to keep me from being productive around the house, it is masterfully narrated by great readers, and it certainly debunks the myths of the noble plantation master.

    But there were several plot lines that stretched credulity - that a white child (indentured servant) would be so readily trusted throughout a slave community in an unstable household, that this child could grow up to tempt marriage offers from two members of the landed gentry of the area (a simple farmer, yes, but to see Virginians crossing class lines is hard to believe), and that this same individual could miss facts right under her nose and keep silent about other crucial facts for decades.

    One reviewer described it as a Gothic novel - and that it is, combining alcoholism, pedophilia, laudunum addiction, sadism, lots of melodrama around lost children and parents, a Bronte-like house fire, and a heroine who maintains her purity of spirit throughout the perils that await her. You can almost envision her tied to railroad tracks.

    And although the main protagonist certainly suffers from the dastardly deeds at the hands of her own Simon Legree, it is difficult as a listener to feel much compassion for her since what's happening to the slaves on this plantation is far worse and somewhat glossed over by the way the author keeps having them bounce back from being victimized by extreme brutality to resume their roles as sad-but-wise-and-loving house servants. The author waxes between fascinating and believable detail (field slaves stealing boards from the smokehouse to boil to get salt into their food) and hackneyed stereotypes of a mammy. I ended up giving Grissom credit for trying to be honest about slavery and forgave her the fall into stereotypes, but other readers might not.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynn Slocomb, AL, United States 06-19-10
    Lynn Slocomb, AL, United States 06-19-10
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    "Couldn't stop listening"

    I purchased this to listen to in my car, but it was so good that I had to bring in my mp3 player and listen to it while I was cleaning the house and doing other things at home. I wasn't too happy with the way that it ended, but right up until the end I could not stop listening to it.

    22 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ruth M. Penson Los Angeles, CA United States 07-04-10
    Ruth M. Penson Los Angeles, CA United States 07-04-10 Member Since 2006

    Ruth

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    "The Kitchen House"

    Would recommend to all! Could not stop listening!!
    Story of slavery & the attitudes of masters toward their slaves with the cruelty and the kindness...so interesting!!!!

    24 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lynette Lincoln, NE, United States 09-20-10
    Lynette Lincoln, NE, United States 09-20-10 Member Since 2006
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    "Great, but the ending seemed rushed"

    I don't think of myself as a huge fan of historical fiction, but this book was really great. I agree that if you liked "The Help," you will also enjoy this book. The only flaw I could see was that the last few chapters seemed very rushed, without the tremendous attention to detail and character development typical of the vast majority of the novel. I still give it a big thumbs up! Unlike some historical fiction, the characters were so well drawn out that it was easy to relate to them even when living in an entirely different time. You understood their motivations, their hopes and their dreams. I will listen to this book again, I am certain!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly Pinole, CA, United States 12-14-10
    Kimberly Pinole, CA, United States 12-14-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Some mighty happy slaves"

    Yowza. The black characters walked right out of "Gone With The Wind." There's a Mammy and an old Uncle Tom and even a Prissy. These are some awfully happy slaves, who laugh at their work and talk back to the master, etc. Just hit my ear wrong. If you want to read excellent books about relations between slaves and their white masters read "The Confession of Nat Turner" or "The Known World" (that one is great, and is about a black master and his slaves). Skip this melodramatic, poorly conceived potboiler.

    27 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 08-04-12
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 08-04-12 Member Since 2005

    Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.

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    "Troubling & violent, but that's history!"

    The Kitchen House succeeded in transporting me to 1790 Virginia, where the Capitan takes in 7-year-old Lavinia, a white-orphaned Irish immigrant as a servant. Lavinia however, would eventually make it to an upgraded status because of her colour.

    Belle, a strong, authentic character with a giant personality and a thick southern black drawl suffers great tragedies because of her position as black property. The story and character development are so rich as this drama unfolds, I could feel the helplessness, fear and pride of each of the slaves in my gut. Some of the slaves/servants live in The Big House with the Captain and his wife Martha, and the others live in the The Kitchen House.

    This book was difficult to get through, yet just a hard to put down. Not too many light moments. Grissom skillfully depicts the desperation of these people who you come to know through rape, torture, murder, incest, physical and mental abuse and opiate addiction. As the reader you watch as Lavinia grows up and leaves her black family, Mamma Mae, Papa George, Belle, and the rest of the slaves. Because she is white, she is offered education and status, and settles for marrying Marshall, son of the Captain and Martha so she can return to the only home and family she ever knew. Marshall, a stereotypical villain, inherits his parents’ plantation and Lavinia thinks life will be grand back with Mama, Papa and the twins Beattie and Fanny. A cruel and abusive alcoholic, Marshall mentally and physically abuses Lavinia or “Abinia,” as her slave family calls her, and she becomes increasingly weak and shallow. I truly wish Grissom did not take this well-rounded character that had so much potential, and turn her into a flat, depthless wuss. That’s where the book lost some momentum for me. The other characters remained strong and convicted right to the end.

    The impeccable historical research, coupled with the heart-wrenching story is what makes this book so “grab out and pull you in” realistic. Glad I didn’t pass this one up.

    I can't say enough about the performance. Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin are what makes audiobooks so wonderful. They took a great book and turned it into a masterpiece. Bravo!

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara St. Petersburg, FL, United States 08-16-10
    Barbara St. Petersburg, FL, United States 08-16-10 Member Since 2007
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    "Unrelenting tragedy"

    I bought this book because I absolutely love "The Help." The premise for this story is really interesting, about an Irish orphan girl who lives and works with slaves on a plantation. But I had to stop listening to "The Kitchen House" because it devolved into a series of awful, terrible, sickening events--and dread about what horrible thing would happen next. Yuck, give me a break.

    38 of 49 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 10-09-13
    Cynthia Monrovia, California, United States 10-09-13 Member Since 2012

    Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!

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    "A Narrative of Antebellum Virginia"

    Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize winning fictional "The Caine Mutiny" (1951) has long been acknowledged as the best description of day to day life on a submarine in World War II, Erich Marie Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929) is a chilling fictional account of German trench warfare in World War I. It's easy enough to read/listen to history books with lots of facts, but unless you are reading an autobiography or a journal, it's hard to imagine yourself in that time and place

    Kathleen Grissom's "The Kitchen House" (2010) is a great piece of historical fiction that imagines the day-to-day life of an Irish indentured servant and her enslaved Black adopted family on a tobacco plantation in antebellum Virginia. The book doesn't address the 'big picture'. It's about the Irish indentured servant Lavinia, who has no memory of her past in Ireland and longs deeply to love and be loved; and Belle, the slave daughter of the white plantation owner, who is loved, but is in constant danger because of that love. Other characters in the book are richly drawn, from the initially indifferent plantation mistress, Ms. Martha, and her son, Marshall; and the slaves of the kitchen house, especially Belle and Lavinia's beloved Mama and Papa.

    The utter lack of control these people had in the White, male world that was 17th and 18th century America was sobering. Lavinia's color gave her more opportunity, but as a woman, her place in life depended on marrying well. The slaves were the property of their owners who could and sometimes did exactly as they pleased with them.

    I do wish Grissom had developed Belle more fully. The book, with it's alternating Lavinia/Belle chapters, is primarily Belle. Both narrators did well, and this is an Audible that does work well with two narrators. Some do not.

    [If this review helped, please let me know by pressing YES. Thanks!]

    11 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Salem Oregon 10-16-11
    Amazon Customer Salem Oregon 10-16-11
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    "More Depth than THE HELP and nearly as good"

    Although I thought that THE HELP was better narrated,THE KITCHEN HOUSE has more depth. Another human interest story about the injustice of human enslavement and particularly of
    Black people. But THE KITCHEN HOUSE had a broader scope about the limited freedom of all the most vulnerable: the poor and uneducated as well as vulnerable youth, and women as a whole.

    There are many surprising twists and turns in this story. I found myself rooting for triumph over evil, but the happy ending never did come...it was quite depressing really.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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