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)
Oh my, where to begin. Start with a ridiculous story line (a boy named Cardigan, really?). Then add dialect from every B movie you have ever seen. ("Yessum, da Massa say weeze gonna jump da broom.") Then add a narrator who needs to do an Irish brogue, Southern dialect, and an African American tongue, but keeps mixing them all up. What do you have? A waste of my book credits! Not since "Roses" have I listened to such a overhyped, disappointing mess.
Retired to mountains of California. Sell on eBay as Prsilla. No TV. Volunteer in wildlife rehab. Knit, sew or embroider while listening.
I was enchanted with the first two-thirds of this book. The exquisite use of words, the conversations, the details are all marvelous. This is Literature! It is a work of research, for sure not chick-lit! I know it's not chick-lit because the girl got the wrong man! Oh, heck! Not fair! So near and yet so far! I woke up yesterday morning thinking that the main (white) characters had made choices that were out of character -- big flaw. I thought to myself that Diana Gabaldon would have saved Steven Bonnet from hanging, let him rob Claire and Jamie blind, and keep writing more books so he could rape Brianna and write another book so Brianna could get her revenge . . . I realize this author wanted to write just one book for now and no loose ends. Also that the ending was connected to her psychic vision given in the Prologue.
So other reviewers have said some of the characters didn't use their heads! Also that the slaves were way too happy. The author tried to show Lavinia's discomfort with being white but loving all those black people who were her whole family. I think she was way too concerned about paying her own way when she grew up. How could she end up with that smarmy suitor and completely forget the wonderful man she had asked to wait for her! Will is one of those men who lights up the room when he enters it -- such a force for good in such an upset world! And then when that doesn't work out, she settles for someone else that she knows is not right in the head, does not keep his promises, drinks to excess, looks down on blacks. Oh, bother!
As for the Captain, where is his head? He owns a ship and selects the crew, deals with people all over the world, but he handpicks a pedophile to be his son's tutor? Couldn't he smell the badness? And same with his choice of overseer for his plantation, a classic scoundrel, hard-drinking and likely to do anything at all that's murderous and unfair, KKK material indeed! So the Captain leaves a beautiful wife to pine away in the boonies for months on end. Loving parents do not just insist that a boy needs discipline; they spend time with the kid and learn his interests and talents. Nobody listens to this boy. Frustrating.
Much of the story boils down to who is liable to be raped and by whom. I've always thought of sex as the poor person's revenge, but everybody is trying to control everybody else in this story. Babies are coming out all different colors.
I believe the language -- blacks using the subjunctive -- was extremely well researched and is listenable and accurate. I did have a problem with the "Empire" dresses described so well. Empire refers to Napoleon. Josephine wore those nearly-transparent high-waisted dresses with little puff sleeves. But that was well after 1800. There was also an avant-garde trend to Grecian costume in Europe, so high waists and uncovered arms would have been seen in some circles. I doubt they would have trickled down to Virginia in the 1790's. No, I believe our girls wore elbow sleeves, natural waists with some corsetry, and probably a kerchief tucked in at the neck for modesty. I've misplaced my own costume history book, but Wikipedia has quite a few ideas, though it was hard to bring Williamsburg costume up into 1800.
Now about those too-happy black slaves. I loved them and felt they were "right on." I'm white. Californian. In 30 years living in San Francisco, I made a great effort to get to know other kinds of people different from myself. The Good Friday I put on a bunny suit and handed out leaflets offering bargain photo developing, it was the blacks who told me, "Gonna have rabbit stew for supper!" and "Hey, bun! Ya got turd on yur tail!" The more dressed-up and the more white, the less likely people were to take my paper. One white guy in a suit just brushed past this adorable 6-foot bunny and kept walking. I was so cross, I hippity-hopped circles around him up Market Street! But seriously, I came to see how black people pull together, offer encouragement or a joke. I saw a man help stop a fight (among other blacks) on the city bus. When there's a fight on the bus, other kinds of folks suddenly don't have one word of English! No, the black people are Americans and a great force for good. . . . Granted that after decades of unequal treatment, we have plenty of dysfunctional families, drug problems, etc. etc., I believe there's a set of very positive general characteristics working here, and the book is accurate. Those slaves had to develop a philosophy incorporating African beliefs plus their Christian teachings. And they share that with Lavinia when she needs comforting. . . . The end of the book shows everyone pulling together to save some kind of life for themselves. The fight on the bus, indeed! Black soldiers did the same thing in Vietnam and all the other wars they were allowed to fight in. No, the black characters were simply trying to "keep a good thought" despite not being free -- to make lemonade with the lemon.
Well, a lot to think about. I always want the heroine to have a snuggle-buddy and sail into the sunset with a step-parent for the orphan. Do enjoy this book, all the lovely descriptions and wordings, once you've found out what happens. Go back to savor! This is a most worthwhile book! And Grissom did leave an outside chance for the lovers. . .
This is a melodramatic soap opera. The unending litany of tragic events just got to be too much.
I would not have stayed with the story except for these two fine narrators. Too bad they weren't given more realistic characters to read.
Probably not another by this arthor.
There are many other better and probably more accurate stories about this time in history.
For instance: Uncle Tom's Cabin
For Pete's sake, people, Lavinia had to be the thickest main character in any book I've ever read. It's a good thing I was listening to this book because I might have destroyed an actual book after a multitude of across-the-room hurlings. Lavinia becomes denser and denser as times moves on and her naivete/disingenuousness (the most kind way of putting it) is not to be believed. She is an absolute dunce, obviously not observing anything around her and becoming more and more helpless (if that's possible) with time, never learning from her own experiences or those of others. Why people continued to love and forgive her was beyond my comprehension.
This book could have been so much better by giving her just a bit of common sense and intelligence. The fact that the characters had the entire book to reveal the secret, but never did, was a source of frustration for me. I was hoping to enjoy this book, as it's a departure from my usual, but after the first half of the book, I became increasingly disgusted with the trajectory of the characters and the story.
The narration of the book--excellent.
BTW, I loved The Help, so it's not the genre with which I'm having a problem.
The characters come alive and evoke so many emotions it's almost as if they are real.
There were so many strong characters to identify with it would be very hard to choose one.
Lavinia would be my first choice.
There voices put so much character into already strong characters, it really added to an already amazing story.
It should not be renamed, it is perfect.
I really enjoyed The Kitchen House. It kept my interest all the way through even though I was sure where it was ultimately going. I won't say much more so as not to ruin the experience for anyone. But I will say that the Miss Grissom was bolder than I'd expected to wrap things up as she did. I also very much enjoyed the multiple narrators and their believable dialects. Bravo!
I did not read the printed version, but I prefer to listen to books like these. It really brings out the characters and emotion of the book.
I discovered the joy of audiobooks several years ago when I got a job which is a 45 min drive one way. It continued to keep me mostly sane.
I had never heard of this book and got it because it sounded interesting and because of the high rating on it. I'm glad that I did. The Kitchen House was an excellent story told by two women, who were both enslaved by others and themselves. It captured a period of time that has been written about comprehensively, but adds the dimension of a white indentured child who is raised by a black family.on a plantation
The narration is fantastic and both narrators deserve kudos but what struck me so forcibly about this story was how senseless the color barrier was and continues to be. Color and who was born to who dictated whether you were a slave or not, but in this story, many of the children born were fathered by white men, yet treated as slaves. It's hard to understand how they differentiated between these children, but they did and it makes no sense. I was also struck by the strength of the women in this tale. They made mistakes, some of them immense, but they handled what they were dealt and survived. Great read!
The writing was stellar, and the narrators perfectly casted. I typically wouldn't listen to the same book twice, but this is one I'd revisit just because the writing and narration were so good.
Mama-- she perfectly embodied the maternal love Lovinia was searching for, and was a great emblem of self-sacrifice.
For a reasonably sad story, the ending was somewhat of a reprief when justice was served.
The death of a principal character early on was tragic and upsetting; but really hooked me into the story. I appreciate how all the characters were fleshed out early on, which helped explain some of their actions (i.e. Marshall's abuse led to his anger led to Sally's demise led to Marshall's adult violence and alcoholism)
GREAT read! I listen to Audible books all the time on my commute and this was one of the better I've encountered. HIGHLY recommend!
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