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
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.
“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)
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
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!
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.
I read and listen to books. I drink tea. I sleep like a cat and wished I lived in Hawaii.
I also want to say off the bat that this book shouldn't be compared to "The Help". This book is a much different story than "The Help". It takes place in Virginia on a slave plantation in the late 1700's, while "The Help" takes place in Mississippi in the 1960's. They are both amazing books, but not similar except that they both deal with injustice and cruelty towards black people.
The basic plot was intriguing. The idea of a young white orphan girl being taken to live on a slave plantation and placed under the care of the slaves is a unique take on this time period. Lavinia, the orphan, was a very likable and naive character. I thought that maybe the slaves would resent her more since she lived and worked in their midst, but they took her in and loved her like she was their own. Maybe they realized how helpless she was. This book had strong characters, both wonderful and despicable. The kitchen house characters brought the life into this book, e.g. Mama, Belle, Papa George, Fanny, Gertie, Ben, Sukie, etc. I just wanted to hug Mama and sit with her, push Rankin off a cliff into shark filled waters and shake Lavinia once in a while to wake her up to the reality that she sometimes missed in her naivete towards what it meant to be white and what it meant to be black. Lavinia was a white girl… no matter how much she identified with the slaves she loved. Lavinia also learned that even though she was white, she was very powerless in her plight to help her kitchen house "family" from the cruelty of slavery. This book was horrifying and brutal and heartbreaking, but I found it to be so good that I couldn't stop listening. I enjoyed the way the book switched between Lavinia and Belle. I liked getting Belle's perspective in addition to Lavinia's. Bahni Turpin did an excellent job of narrating Belle, but I had mixed feelings on Orlagh Cassidy's narration of Lavinia. I don't know if she was the best choice for the job, but she was good enough. The book ended a bit too quickly in my opinion. I could have used another 10 minutes of detail from that last chapter.
On a side note, if you listen to this audiobook, take the time to listen to the last few minutes of the author speaking about her motivation and passion for writing this book. It was very interesting.
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!
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!!!!
This book shows that slavery comes in many forms. Indentured servants, slaves and even wives who find out their husbands are not what they thought and end up in a marriage where they are less free than many slaves. In the 1700s, on a Virginia tobacco plantation, a young Irish immigrant girl finds herself living among African American slaves who become her family. They run the "Kitchen House" and serve the people in the "big" house. She eventually lives in the big house herself but finds she is closer to a slave when living in the big house as a "free" woman than she was when living with the African Americans in the kitchen house. Great listen, plenty of action and very good narration.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
This is one of my favorite audio books . . . for the honesty in which it is written, for the wonderful characters, for the way it depicts that integrity is much deeper than the color of our skins . . . was back then, still is today . . . makes me recall one of the verses in the Bible, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven. Not because of his money, but because of how much he LOVES his money . . . and how unwillingness he is to part with it . . . This book has some really difficult parts to listen to, but they are necessary. Powerful people used (and still use) other people, black and white alike. This is a lesson in America's history . . . and not a proud one.
I bought this book because I was fascinated to see how the writer would work with the interaction of an Irish slave with African Americans. Although I found some of the characters stereotypical or even cardboard, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought Ms Grissom did a great job depicting the intertwining oppressions the characters experience. I also find it interesting that women of privilege are depicted as so constantly cornered and trying to keep fragile houses of cards from collapsing. There is a timelessness in the plights of these women and the different ways they use to cope with such despair. Oddly enough, I didn't find it depressing. Slavery and the Irish are generally depressing ( nb Ann Enright's The Gathering) but the voices of the women are so strong and determined that whatever they do gives one hope. Excellent readers, as well.
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.
I am an avid "reader"- I prefer to listen to books rather than read them due to the added dimension added by the narrator.
I could feel these characters in my bones. Lavinia, Mama, Belle, Marshall, all of them were as real as anyone I have ever met. An intimate look into life in the south in the late 1700's and early 1800's, this book warmed my heart, broke my heart and renewed my heart... all in one. I highly recommend this to anyone. Bravo to the readers!
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