The Brown Baggers met on November 15 to discuss The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.
The story takes place in the late 1700s at Tall Oaks, a tobacco plantation in Virginia and spans several years. The book has two narrators, including Lavinia, an Irish immigrant and Belle, the plantation owner’s illegitimate black daughter. Lavinia, was a young child sailing to America with her family when her parents died en route. The captain of the ship, who is the owner of Tall Oaks, takes Lavinia to live on his plantation as an indentured servant. Lavinia stays with Belle in the kitchen house and Belle shows her how to cook and clean.
Lavinia becomes an adopted part of the slave family that works in the “big house” instead of the fields. Here she is shown love and affection, but as she grows up Lavinia is torn between her adopted family and the captain’s family, who she also cares about. Belle faces multiple challenges throughout the story, including how her father does not tell his white family that Belle is his daughter.
The book focuses on the relationship between the slaves who work in the big house or kitchen house and the family who lives in the big house and owns the slaves. There were a few themes in the novel, including family, Women’s rights, and race relations particularly as related to the order of society and the plantation.
The Brown Baggers generally liked the novel. Some felt that the writing was more simplistic than last month’s selection, H is for Hawk, but reviewers described Grissom’s writing as “prose-like.”
One issue that readers had, was that it felt like there were too many characters to keep straight, and having a chart listing characters in the front of the book would have been helpful. It was also noted that much of the book was historically accurate and well-researched.
A few Brown Baggers thought the plot was too contrived. And, many agreed that the last third of the book was the weakest- it seemed like the author needed to wrap things up and did so in a hurry.
The group also discussed Miss Martha and later Lavinia’s frequent use of opium/laudanum and how during that time in history it was a way to cope and sedate feelings of isolation and depression. The group also discussed slavery, particularly talking about how Belle didn’t want to leave to go up north and how the author was telling the story through her own lens of whiteness. Overall, even though nothing good happens throughout the story, it was still an interesting read.
Other Titles Mentioned:
The Price of a Child by Lorene Cary
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Join us on Thursday, December 20 at noon to vote on upcoming titles- be sure to bring a few titles to recommend.