I may be dragging a little bit today because I was up until the wee hours of the morning finishing this fantastic book, and then awake because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I think that one of the reviews on the back of the book sums it up best — that Kathleen Grissom has taken Gone With the Wind and turned it on its head with this tale.
This book was recommended to me by one of my blog readers and friends who actually just got married this Saturday (congrats, MG!). I love recommendations and will almost always take them for a book to read, so continue to send them my way. I think one of the reasons she probably loved it because it would certainly appeal to any history major, or someone interested in learning more about society during various phases of our country’s past.
The Kitchen House is a fascinating story because it describes without any discretion or veiled reference what life was often like for slaves and servants in the antebellum days prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. But, it also has a twist. The story is told by two narrative voices. The first is Abinia, an orphaned Irish girl who has been “adopted” into indentured servitude at the ripe age of three, and Belle, a slave born into her station via the rape of her mother by her master. The two perspectives offer complex understandings of the narrative and enrich the story dramatically.
Because Abinia is so young (and traumatized by the death/loss of her family), she adopts the black slaves that take care of her as her own family. She does not understand the difference in color and learns the art of serving from her new family. As Abinia ages, she must face a difficult challenge of not knowing where she belongs in the world and the caste system of the South during that time. She is childlike in spirit and naive in heart.
The story follows Abinia’s journey in particular, shedding light on the world around her through Belle’s perspective. We learn about the abuse and assault on the slaves, the rape of a young boy by an older male tutor, horrible deaths, mental disorder, the powerlessness of women in aiding the slaves they grow to love, and how mixed up life was in the South during the late 1700s. And there is so much more.
This book made me physically ache at times for the helplessness of the slaves, embarrassment that this ever was a part of our history, and also frustration for the impotent way women were able to participate in their own life choices. There is so much more to discuss about the book, but I think that is best done after you read the book!
If you are interested in pre-Civil War plantations and the non-Gone with the Wind glamorization of what slavery life was really like, read this book. I will warn you — it is graphic, it is gory, it is gruesome. But it is true — though the story itself is not a nonfictional account, it is based on historical experiences. And you will not be able to put it down.