“Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young white Lavania arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family.
In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to stradle the worlds of the kitchen and big houses, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
I fell deep into this page turner in the very first chapter. Well researched and beautifully written, The Kitchen House is a story of heartbreak,love, race and daily life in early America for slaves. Told through the eyes of white indentured Lavinia, and black slave Belle (who is also the daughter of the master) this book isn’t a happy one. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time overwhelmingly heart warming. The unconditional love in this story is pure.
The book is written chronologically through a matter of years, starting with Lavinia arriviving at the plantation as an indentured servant under the care of Belle, a young woman herself. You feel the innocence of Lavinia as she loves and longs for her new family, with total color blindness, while being reminded even as a child by the master’s family of her different place even as a servant herself.
As she grows, this naivety becomes a problem. Even as well intentioned as she is, her lack of understanding of race becomes a major issue, even with potential harm for those she loves the most.
Through Belle (whose POV I wish there was more of) we learn the terrible consequences of a lie, and how one lie can do more damage than the hurtful truth would. She’s a strong woman and proud of who she is, and her character and story is my personal favorite.
Grissom’s research served this book well. The truth is the truth, as ugly as it may be-historical fiction is one of the best outlets for truth telling. Indentured servitude and slavery is not the same. Nor was the treatment of white indentured servants and black slaves. In history there have been Prince’s, well educated, and very wealthy men and women who were sold into slavery and treated in the most inhumane, immoral ways with zero decency; whereas a poor white indentured servant was given the very basics of moral decency and dignity with opportunities even the Prince slave was not.
I had no love in this story for the master and his family, even the characters that treated the slaves well. The family of The Kitchen House is the foundation of this book. You’ll laugh and cry and most importantly, the love they share is the very definition of unconditional.