The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom
Doubleday (via Random House Australia)
A review book that came my way via another reviewer early in the year and has taken me some time to pick up, The Kitchen House is a fine first novel from author Kathleen Grissom. Those readers who were moved by The Help (Kathryn Stockett) and are interested in the exploration of the social and historical fabric of the United States, slavery and the emancipation of African-Americans will welcome the introduction to this novel.
In the late 18th century, a plantation owner/merchant captain brings a seven year old Irish orphan Lavinia to his home, her parents having both died on the outward voyage. Lavinia, now indentured to the plantation, is taken in as family by the Negro slaves of the household but, of course, being white still sits outside in a sense.
Spanning the years, the reader observes Lavinia growing up, the brutal treatment of her ‘family’ in the slave quarters, the intricate and hypocritical machinations of the ruling class and the eventual demise of the plantation family.
This is a powerful novel and important in the same sense as ‘The Help’ in bringing to contemporary readers a sense of the utter helplessness of the slaves and indeed, the lower classes, of the time.
Having put this one aside as a ‘read later’, I found once I started that I wanted to keep reading to see ‘what happened next’ in this saga and my only slight criticism is that the conclusion had a feeling of being rushed – almost as if the author had been told to get it done within a certain number of pages. I personally would have preferred a more elegant ending to what was really a fine and emotionally engaging story.
This novel is for senior students and adults, but would fit beautifully with any studies of the Civil Rights movement.