Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Lavinia is born into poverty overseas.  Her parents decide to immigrate to America as indentured servants along with Lavinia and her brother.  On the trip over, the parents become ill and both die.  When the ship reaches America, the captain sells the brother's contract, but Lavinia is only seven and won't fetch much.  The captain decides to keep her contract himself and takes her to his plantation.

There Lavinia, who is white, is sent to the kitchen house to live among the slaves and learn their trades.  This is fairly scandalous, but the Captain's family is not usual.  Belle, who runs the kitchen house is the Captain's daughter from a liaison with a slave woman.  The Captain's wife spends her days drugged up on laudanum, a form of morphine.  She has been driven mad by the loss of her babies, a common occurrence in this time period.

Lavinia learns to love the slaves she grows up among.  They are the only family she knows and she calls the mother and father of the house slaves Mama and Papa the same as her playmates do.  When Lavinia is twelve, the mistress' sister comes on a family visit when the Captain dies.  She is shocked at Lavinia's situation and when the family decides to take the mistress back with them to Williamsburg, they also take Lavinia.  There she grows into a woman, beautiful and determined to return somehow to the plantation and the only family she has ever known.

Grissom has written a story of slavery from an interesting angle, that of an indentured white servant who grows up with a slave family.  It allows her to show the plight of the slaves from a different viewpoint, along with the strong sense of family they hold, and the mechanisms they create in order to survive and thrive.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

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