A seven year old girl from Ireland lands on US soil in 1791 as an indentured servant. Taken to a plantation in Virginia, she is cared for by the owners illegitimate daughter by a slave girl, called Belle, and slowly builds a home and a life amongst the black slaves. But as she grows up, she finds herself on the borders of two worlds, destined to never truly belong in either.
As far as fiction about this period goes, and stories about history in the American South, this books has a depth of detail, compassion and ugly truth about it that most books written by white authors tend to avoid. History has often forgotten the indentured workers from places like Ireland, who were essentially slave labour, working off the price of their passage to a better life in places like America. Their lives were not valued, and as such, Lavinia becomes our entry point into what life was like for slaves living on plantations, as well as the prevailing attitudes towards them by their white owners.
The book therefore isn’t always an easy read, and nor should it be, considering it’s subject, but it’s a really good book. In a way it’s quite a ride. The characters are quite fallible and lovable, some are completely despicable, but all are well drawn and individual. Sometimes characters make decisions based on mistaken assumptions that sweep them away from the happiness they don’t know is so close. At times, brutality or cruelty renders them powerless. But for all that, the book is full of love, family, kindness, and friendship, all in the face of adversity.
Read it if: You like books like The Help, The Invention of Wings or if you have an interest in antebellum history.