Remembering Not Forgetting

I’ve always been someone who listens to the unsaid.  An invigorating burden it can be. Fiction is the great tableau onto which stories safely allow us to confront our truths.  There are those who wish to move on and not listen to tales that illicit unpleasantry.  Those who prefer to relegate unpleasantry to historic names and no-names.  I’ve always been someone who likes to rattle my sense of truth in the face of difficulty, complexity and confusion.  I like to feel my feet on the ground, the very same ground which all of us tread upon.  I am fascinated with the stories buried underground that thanks to federal calendars in celebration of racial and cultural heritage remind us to read.  This issue of Bookissh takes a look at two works, off the calendar which demonstrate the life force, genius and survival of our African American sisters and brothers.  I have read both and listened to both and to be frank you can’t go wrong doing either!

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom  

🖊 🖊 🖊 🖊 🖊  Five Pens  

The Antebellum South. Wide open houses, verandas, smokehouses, creeks, slaves, lynchings, laudanum, and loveless marriages. This list covers everything except the complex relati51PB-Wmk8eL.jpgonship between characters. What makes this book remarkable is how Grissom demonstrates the openness former slaves practiced when it came to care giving. Anyone living in forced servitude could become family, even when that family was imposed on them due to death or rape.  Oft relegated to care for caucasian elders and children, former slaves gave their breasts, their love and their commitment regardless of treatment or outcome for themselves or their relations.  So powerful they were…
Enter Belle and Lavinia, women without mothers and fathers who develop a bond so profound that it transcends the closeness of everyday parents and children.  Their capacity to care and care fully for children unborn to them is remarkable. In the slave community, parents birthed children and set them adrift on the sea of life only to return with spoils of disregard. Girls were burdensome with horrible futures fraught with pain and grief and boys were only to be sold, resold, disabled or killed if there spirit was too strong.
Plantation owners intermingled.  Slave drivers intermingled and generations of children born of every color are born to the wrong person at the wrong time and had to find a place and a level of acceptance and comfort within and between races.  This demonstrates more difficult than the subscribed roles of the era.  Belle pays such a price as she can “get by” as white but the knowledge of her ancestry keeps her from finding and seeking a safe place in the world once she’s free.  So the drama unfolds as she is favorited among her white kinfolk.  She races back and forth between the big house and kitchen house.  Hated and obsessed over by many.
This is the story of all the plantation workers and survivors and featuring one of these characters, I imagine was a difficult page to pen.
The tension in this work is palpable.   Grissom’s voice was devoted to those of yesteryear across race, education and economic status.  Definitely a good setup for the next book!
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Glory Over Everything: Beyond The Kitchen House  by Kathleen Grissom     🖊 🖊 🖊 🖊 🖊  Five Pens  

My recommendation is to read this as soon as possible after the first one because it facilitates continuity of character and family lines.

This one features male protagonists Jamie Pyke who flees from the Virginia Plantation and makes his way as a silversmith craftsman.  Like Belle, he gets by and can pass as caucasian and his survival depends on that.

While he is making his way to Philadelphia, he meets a runaway former slave who helps him out and later comes to Jamie living a successful life and asks him to help him recover his young son Pan who has been kidnapped and soon to be sold.  Making his way to North Carolina Pan encounters various slaves who were affiliated with the Virginia plantation and more significantly the Underground Railroad.  It is in this part of the story readers discover tidbits of such a complex system which enabled slaves to make their way to freedom.

Jamie keeps his race a secret but has had relations with a woman, Caroline, who has become pregnant.  He decides it’s best to leave because she is married and his is black. Caroline has the baby, loses the marriage and her life.  Will Pan return to safety?  Will Jamie’s secret be revealed?  Will his freedom continue?  Will Jamie’s daughter reach her loving father’s arms?  Will the scars of slavery ever heal for all of us?

All of the terrible characters from the first book return and human hunting takes place. All of the deep, soulful characters who haven’t died in the first book return and in their disabled state manage to foster survival and lives as they fade into history.  The tension is significant in this book–there is violence, unassisted childbirth, slow deaths.  It is all so detailed and well researched and sadly, bears shameful truth.  Grissom rises to great literary achievements in her continued capacity to capture narrative voices, regional dialect, reliable multiple points of view and creates a full story while doing so.

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