From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.
Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.
This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.
Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Kathleen Grissom is now happily rooted in south-side Virginia, where she and her husband live in the plantation tavern they renovated. She is the author of The Kitchen House and most recently Glory Over Everything.
Read an Excerpt
Glory Over Everything
ROBERT’S FAMILIAR RAP on the door came as I was studying a miniature portrait of myself. The small painting, meant as a parting gift to my beloved, had just been delivered, and I was debating the artist’s interpretation. I had to admit that Miss Peale’s suggestion to paint my face in profile, and thus avoid the black patch covering my left eye, was a good idea. Too, she had captured my features well in this, my thirty-third year: the length of my oval face, my aquiline nose, and the cleft in my square-cut jaw. But I disliked the distinct set she had given my mouth.
Robert knocked again.
“Yes,” I called, and my butler entered.
“A letter, sir,” he announced, coming forward. I lifted the letter from the tray and noted the familiar script. Robert gave me a concerned glance, but a bell above the mantel clinked once, signaling that he was needed elsewhere. Fortunately, he made a quick exit.
Alone again, I slit the seal. Caroline’s simple words were so potent that the paper vibrated in my hand.
Darling, I will see you this evening.
I had avoided her for weeks, but my presence at the event tonight was mandatory, and now Caroline meant to attend.
Though I longed to see her, I was filled with dread. Time was running out, and I could no longer escape. Tonight I must tell her the truth, though in the telling I would almost certainly lose her. And to lose her was to lose my life.
Again Robert was at the door, but this time, after a sharp rap, he entered on his own. He looked about uneasily, as though unsure how to deliver his next message.
“What is it, Robert?” I finally asked.
“Sir, there is someone here to see you,” he said, his eyes scanning my person and for only the briefest moment settling on the letter. “The caller is . . . at the back door,” he added, indicating that my visitor was likely a man of color. Robert paused as though looking for words, an unusual thing for this sophisticated man who ran my household. “His name is Henry.”
I stiffened. Surely it could not be Henry! We had an understanding.
“He said to tell you that he is Pan’s father,” Robert added carefully.
So it was Henry! I rose suddenly. Then, to cover my distress, I brushed at my jacket sleeves. “Have him wait in the kitchen,” I ordered, until I remembered I would want complete privacy. “No. Take him to my study.”
“Your study, sir?” Robert’s eyes opened wide. My study, my private workroom, was seldom open to anyone but Robert, and that was only for cleaning. It had been that way for years.
“Yes, my study,” I said with some irritation, and my butler quickly took his leave.
* * *
HENRY WAITED JUST inside the study. I closed the wide double doors firmly behind me and carefully made my way past both drawing tables to my desk. The three tall windows in this room shed enough of the darkening light for Henry to follow. I sat and nodded toward the chair across from me, but the visitor ignored my request as his dark fingers nervously circled the frayed brown hat that he held. I was momentarily startled to see his gray hair, then remembered that years had passed since I had seen him last.
He wasted no time with polite discussion and burst forth, “My boy gone! My Pan gone! They take him. I know they do. You got to help me!”
“Please, Henry! Slow down! What are you talking about? Where is Pan? What do you mean? He is missing?”
“This the third day. All along, I’m thinkin’ he here working in the kitchen. When he don’ come see me Sunday like always, I’m thinking he needed here, but then I hear that two more boys get took from the docks. Las’ time I see him, I say again, ‘You stay away from that shipyard, those men snap you up, put you on a boat, an’ sell you down south.’ That’s why I come here to see him for myself, an’ now Molly say she don’ see Pan for two days an’ was thinkin’ he was with me.”
My cook had said nothing. “Why didn’t Molly come to me with her concern?”
“She say you got so much goin’ on with sellin’ your business and your trip comin’ up that you don’ need to be lookin’ out for your help.”
“Pan is more to me than help, you know this, Henry.”
“I knows this, Mr. Burton. You treat him real good. He gettin’ book-smart like you, and he learn how to work in the white man’s house.”
“He is a quick student,” I said.
“My boy never go off like this on his own. He comes see me direct every Sunday, then goes back Monday mornin’, jus’ like always.”
I tried to recall when I had last seen Pan. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he had requested permission to take a book from my library? Or was that already two days ago? I had been so distracted with my own doings . . .
“He a good boy, he don’ believe nobody mean him no harm. I tell him all the time, ‘You got to be careful of those nigga traders.’ At twelve years, he jus’ the age they lookin’ for. They get him on a boat, take him down the river, and sell him for a slave. You know what I’s talkin’ ’bout!” Henry’s voice grew loud and I put my finger to my mouth. Henry leaned toward me and whispered loudly, “You know what I’s talkin’ ’bout!”
I did! I did know!
“There’s word that two more boys is missin’ from the South Ward, and they say that a schooner leave for the Carolinas this mornin’. I jus’ know my boy’s on it! You got to go get him! Pan’s been tellin’ me how you goin’ down there on that ’scursion. You got to bring him back!”
I stopped him. “Henry! I don’t leave for another month! If it is true that he was taken, how do you know that they would sell him in the Carolinas? In all likelihood, they would take him farther down.” I spoke without thinking and, too late, saw the effect of my words. The man’s shoulders dropped. It had grown dark in the room, but I could see well enough when he wiped his eyes on the sleeve of his coat. Then he fell to his one knee.
“Please, Masta James, please! I only ask for help one time, an’ that’s when I firs’ bring my boy to you jus’ after my Alice die. Our Pan come late to Alice and me, an’ now he all I got left of her. I gets you the money, you go down, get him back.” His voice caught as he choked back sobs. “I know what they do to him. I’s been a slave. I’d soon see him dead before I see him sol’ for a slave. Please, Masta James, he my only boy!”
“Stand up, Henry!” I said. “Get ahold of yourself!” How could he call me by that hated title? And to be subjugating himself on his knees! Had he no pride, no sense of having bettered himself? He was no longer a slave. And neither was I.
* * *
I HAD MET Henry twenty years earlier, when, at the age of thirteen, I arrived in Philadelphia, ill and terrified and fleeing for my life.
On the journey from my home in southern Virginia, I spoke to no one, mute from fear of discovery. I traveled with two secrets, one as damning as the other. The first was that, just weeks before, I had discovered that I was part Negro, a race I had been taught to loathe. The second was that I had killed my father, for though I was raised by his mother as one of her own, and was as white-skinned as my father, he denied me my birthright and was going to sell me for a slave. Because of his murder, patrollers were searching for me and would hang me if I was found.
I should have felt relief as I boarded each new passenger coach that took me away, but instead I became more fearful. The question of what I was going to do next loomed before me. Where would I go? How would I support myself? In my thirteen years, I had never been away from home. I had been raised as a privileged white child, cared for by servants on an isolated plantation. My doting grandmother, the woman who raised me as her son, had provided me with a fair education, but she had not taught me the fundamental skills of providing for myself. Now she was dead, my home was gone, and I was alone and in great danger.
When I arrived at the tavern outside of Philadelphia, I was so ill, frightened, and travel-worn that I scarcely knew to make my way inside. It wasn’t until the coach horses were led back to the stables that I roused myself enough to walk into the noisy inn and ask for a bed. My head ached so that I was careless and withdrew my full purse. Then, before the transaction could take place, the smoke-filled room began to spin and my stomach heaved.
I just managed to stuff the purse back into my carrying case before I hastily made for the door; once outside, I ran for the back of the stables. There I leaned against the building as my stomach violently emptied. Then, before I could recover, I was struck from behind. I fell forward, though instinct had me clutch my traveling bag to me during the whaling that followed. In the end, the bag was wrestled from me, and with a last oath and some final kicks to my body, the thief was off. I tried to raise myself up to follow the man but, in the effort, lost consciousness.
When I awoke, I was looking into Henry’s dark face. “You got to quiet down,” he said. “You yellin’ too loud.”
Painfully, I raised myself on my elbow to look around. I was on a pallet on the dirt floor of what appeared to be a hut. I attempted to lift myself farther, but my head throbbed so that I lay back down. “How did I get here?” I asked.
“I find you out by the stables,” he said. “Somebody work you over, but look to me like you sick before he got to you.”
“Who are you?” I asked, squeezing my head to stop the throbbing.
“I’s Henry. I work the stables back at the Inn. I’s a runaway, like you.” He stopped, then looked at me to see if I understood what he was trying to say. “I’s a slave, like you,” he said, as though to finalize a pact.
His words struck me like a blow. “I’m no slave!” I protested. “What makes you say that? I’m white!”
He looked at me sideways. “Maybe you is,” he said, “but that not what you say when you outta your head.”
“What did I say?” I struggled again to sit up. “Tell me! What did I say?”
“You say you is runnin’, that somebody comin’ after you.”
Who was this man? Had he already alerted the patrollers? Suddenly I remembered my few belongings. “My traveling bag!” I said.
“ ’Fraid they got it,” he said.
“Oh no!” I said, and defeated, I lay back down. There was nothing left! The money, the clothes, all were gone. Then another thought. “My jacket!” I cried out. “Where is my jacket?”
“You mean that coat you’s wearin?” Henry asked. “Even when that fever got you sweatin’ it out, the one thing you don’ let me take off a you is that coat a yours.”
When Henry turned away, I reached down to feel the padded interior of my jacket where the jewelry had been sewn in. I sighed when I felt all the bumps and bulges, then I fingered the pockets, and when I felt my sketchpad and my small silver knife, I closed my eyes in relief.
“Here, it bes’ you drink this down,” he said, returning to me with a mug.
He was on his knees beside me, and when he handed me the drink, both he and the water smelled of the earth. I drank deeply.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked. “Why are you helping me?”
“Somebody help me out when I was runnin’, like you,” he said, while looking me over. “You got a bad eye, or do it come from the beatin’ you took?”
I touched my useless left eye instinctively. “I was born with it.”
Henry gave a nod.
“How long have I been here?” I asked.
“You bin here four nights,” he said.
When he went for more water, I looked out on the dark night through the open door, then listened to the night sounds. They were not what I had imagined I would hear in a city. “Where are we?” I asked.
“We outside Phil’delphia,” he said. “Far ’nough away that nobody comes out, but close ’nough that I get to my work.”
What did this man intend for me? Had he already turned me in?
“What are you doing out here?” I asked. “Why don’t you live in the city?”
“How ’bout you tell Henry more ’bout you?” he said, but I closed my eyes at the thought, and before long, I fell asleep.
* * *
THE NEXT EVENING I awoke to the aroma of a roasting fowl. Outdoors, I found Henry leaning over a fire and rotating our meal on a makeshift spit. When he glanced over and noticed me, he spoke. “You feelin’ better?” he asked.
I nodded and tested myself by moving about. Though my arms and legs felt weak, my head did not throb as sharply as it had before.
Henry lifted a stick and poked it twice into the hot coals. When he raised it, the spear held two crusty roasted potatoes. He set each one in a wooden bowl, then removed the perfectly browned chicken from its spit onto a slab of wood.
“Sit,” he said, waving me over with a dangerous-looking knife. Driven by my newly awakened hunger, I overcame my wariness and sat down across from him, watching as he used the knife to split the chicken in two. After he placed half a fowl in each bowl, he handed one to me, then set the large knife down on a flat rock between the two of us, putting it easily within my reach. The gesture gave me some relief, for I hoped it meant that he did not see me as a threat.
Then I could wait no longer. I used my teeth to tear the tender meat from the bone, slurping and sucking the juice off my fingers. The potato crunched, then steamed when I bit into it, and I sputtered an oath when I burnt my mouth, causing Henry to laugh, a solid sound that came from deep within.
“Boy, you somethin’ to see when you eatin’,” he said, shaking his head.
As my stomach filled, my worry about trusting this man was slowly replaced with curiosity. Although of average height, he was powerfully built across the shoulders. I guessed him to be close to thirty-five or forty years of age. His hair grew out wild from his head, and his skin color was of the darkest I had ever seen. He was a fierce-looking man, and under ordinary circumstances I would have given him a wide berth.
When he speared another potato and handed it to me, I noted he was missing a thumb. He saw me looking and held up both his opened hands, wiggling stubs where his two thumbs once were. “They take ’em before I run.”
“Who did?” I asked, though I wasn’t certain I wanted the answer.
“The masta, down Lou’siana,” Henry said. He looked out into the dark, and speaking in a removed voice, he told me about himself.
Born into slavery, he had grown up with his mother and younger brother on a large cotton plantation. The master was brutal in his handling of his slaves, and when he learned that Henry was involved in planning a revolt, he punished Henry by cutting off his thumbs and forcing him to witness his mother’s flogging. She died as result, and that was when Henry and his brother decided to make their escape. “We out by two days when he get shot down. Nothin’ for me to do but run.” He shook his head.
Somehow Henry eluded his pursuers, and after months of indescribable trials, he found himself in Philadelphia. Now, though free for two years, he remained on constant alert.
“If that masta get ahold a me, he finish me off. That’s why I stay hid. Every day I’s lookin’ out. I ain’t never goin’ back to bein’ a slave. They got to kill me first!” He sat quiet, as though exhausted from telling his story. Finally, he roused himself. “And what ’bout you?” he asked.
I was startled by his direct question. I had not expected to have him share his past so openly, and now he wanted the same from me. But how far could I trust him? Negroes were liars and thieves and always ready to take advantage of a white man. Yet so far, this one had only helped me. Dare I tell him how alone I was? Was it safe to tell him that when I fled my home, I left behind everyone and everything I cared about, knowing that I could never return?
“I knows you runnin’ like me. Why you got to get away, it don’ matter none to me.”
“I shot my father,” I said quietly, hoping that he heard me, for I did not want to repeat those words.
“We do what we got to do,” he said.
“I hated him. His name was Marshall. I always thought he was my brother, but only a few months ago I found out that he was my father.”
“Why you thinking he your brother?”
“My grandmother told me that I was her son and my dead grandfather was my father.”
“And what ’bout your mama?”
“At the same time I found out Marshall was my father, I learned that my real mother was a Negro.” It was difficult to believe my own words, for I still loved my grandmother as my true mother.
“So you take a gun to your daddy?”
“He was going to sell me for a slave,” I said.
“You kill him dead?”
“And you a nigga?”
“My mother was a mulatto,” I said. “Her name was Belle.”
“Was she a light cullah?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And your daddy was white?”
I nodded. “I look just like him. I’m as white as he was.”
“That don’ matter. You still a nigga. But you can pass. That’s your bes’ bet.”
I had nothing to say.
“You got a family name?”
“Pyke,” I said. “I’m Jamie Pyke.”
“Not no more,” he said. “You got to go by somethin’ else.”
I stared into the fire. How could this be? Until a few months ago, I had thought of myself as white, and now, unbelievably, I was a Negro without a name, running for my life.
* * *
AS MY HEALTH returned, Henry’s manner toward me remained genial, and because I felt no judgment of my character, I ceased judging him. In fact, I came to rely on him so much that I disliked it when he left for his work at the tavern. When I was alone, any unusual noise startled me, and I would leave at a run to hide in the trees. My heart pounded as I hid, watchful and terrified, until I would emerge, weak with relief to realize that the disturbance had come from deer passing through or squirrels chasing one another. Daily I feared that Rankin, the treacherous overseer from our plantation, and his son Jake, two of the most ruthless men I knew, would find me. It was almost certain that they were still searching for me, and though they were known for their dogged determination in locating runaway slaves, their notoriety came from their merciless treatment of their captives.
Then gradually, as I became familiar with the particular sounds that came from living in the woods, I adapted to Henry’s primitive lifestyle. By the time we were well into the pleasant season of autumn, each morning after Henry set out for work, I quite happily spent the day in the outdoors. There, while gathering wood for our evening fire, I had the time to observe the wildlife around me. Birds were in abundance, and my childhood fascination with them grew.
My interest stemmed from a large book of bird illustrations that I had been given as a child. Kept indoors for most of my early years, when I was not reading the book, I used the images to teach myself to sketch and paint. When I grew older, I used a penknife to carve birds and woodland creatures out of wood. Now, alone in this forest, I often busied myself whittling and sketching, and for those hours I was free of worries.
I decided that I might remain with Henry indefinitely, but as colder weather approached, he began to suggest that it was time for me to consider my future. “You got to get into town, find some work an’ someplace to stay,” he said. “Snow comin’. It ain’t nothin’ like you see before. Snow here gets deep. Hard livin’ out here.”
“But what will I do? Where will I stay?” I argued, fear causing a high childish whine in my voice.
“You get a job easy enough if you go in passin’ for white. Thing is, you do that, you got to be careful,” he said.
I didn’t tell him that I had never considered anything other than presenting myself as white. I had never and would never consider myself a Negro. In fact, the idea disgusted me.
Henry thought awhile before he continued. “You pass, you got to cut ties with any niggas that you know.”
“I don’t know any,” I said.
“There’s me,” he replied, but it took a while before I caught his meaning.
* * *
AFTER I FOUND work in Philadelphia, I took Henry’s advice, and we cut ties. My life progressed and I did well for myself, establishing a place in Philadelphia society.
I was alarmed, then, when Henry sought me out some fifteen years later; he was a link to my past that could ruin me if it were exposed. I was living as a white man, in white society, with no affiliation to any Negroes other than those of my household staff. Yet suddenly, he appeared with the request that I give employment to his seven-year-old son.
I might have refused him, but after I saw his desperation, and faced with the debt I owed him, I could not refuse. Thus I agreed to take in Henry’s son, Pan, so he might be taught to perform the domestic duties in an established house.
On our first meeting, the young son struck me as rather delicate, with his slight build, dark skin, and ears that jutted out from his thin face. Pan’s unflinching brown eyes met my own, an unusual habit for one of his race. And it was there, in the boy’s eyes, that I recognized something of myself. For all of his bravery, they held something of the fear that I had felt when I first came to Philadelphia.
I agreed to provide for the boy, but I had no intention of becoming involved with him, and turned him over to Robert, my butler, and Molly, the cook, for use in the kitchen. A few weeks after his arrival, Molly reported back to me: “That boy, he’s something! He work like I tell him to, but you never see nobody ask questions like he do. ‘Why you do this? Why you do that?’ He even ask if I show him how to write down his name.”
Eventually, as Robert gave him more chores, I began to see Pan around the house more frequently. He was an uncommonly cheerful child, and when he saw me, he’d enthusiastically call out, “Hello, Mr. Burton!” And he didn’t leave it at that. Almost always his greetings included other comments, such as “Did you see my new shoes?” or “I’m sure gettin’ plenty to eat.” His demeanor was so winning that in spite of myself, I began to take notice of him.
Then came the day he found me cleaning the cage of my much prized cockatoo, Malcolm. When Pan opened the door to my upstairs room, his eyes opened wide. “What you doin’ with that bird?” he asked.
“I’m caring for him,” I said.
“Ain’t he supposed to be outside?” He looked back out the door. “Does Robert know you got him in here?”
Malcolm flew to Pan’s shoulder, and though the boy stiffened, he stood his ground. When the bird began to nose Pan’s ear, the boy did not move but rolled his eyes up at me. “He gon’ hurt me?”
“No, I rather think he likes you,” I said.
Malcolm leaped onto his favorite perch with a questioning squawk. Pan stared. “I sure never do see somethin’ like him before.”
“His name is Malcolm, and he is a salmon-crested cockatoo.”
“Where did you get him?”
“He was my first friend when I came to this house,” I said, surprising myself with my open answer.
“Naughty boy!” Malcolm interrupted, using his favorite phrase.
Pan gaped, then gave a nervous laugh. “That him talkin’?”
“It is,” I said.
“That bird was talkin’?”
“Yes, he mimics very well.”
The boy clapped his hands. “Make him talk again!”
His interest in the bird reminded me of myself as a child, and I decided to give him an opportunity. “I’ll tell you what. You have Robert send you to me every day at this time, and I will teach you how to take care of him. Then you can hear him speak every day.”
“You sayin’ you let me help you out with this bird?”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“Won’t be no work for me!” he said. “But Robert don’t want me foolin’ ’round the house outside a the kitchen, ’less he say so.”
“I’ll speak with Robert,” I promised.
* * *
IT WASN’T LONG before Pan was supplying Malcolm with the sycamore and dogwood branches that the bird loved to gnaw, and after the boy discovered how to keep Malcolm occupied, I often found the bird happily nipping at a swinging ear of corn or pecking at a carrot that hung above his perch.
Pan continued to surprise me with his quick mind, and because of his keen desire to learn, in time I began to teach him to read and write. One late afternoon, less than a year after his arrival, he stood beside my desk while once again I attempted to correct his use of the English language. As I was doing so, he leaned over to catch my eye. “Mr. Burton, why you doin’ this for me?” he asked.
“Why are you doing this for me?” I corrected.
“Yes, Mr. Burton. You right. Why are you doing this for me?” he repeated my correction.
“You are right,” I corrected again.
“I know I’s right,” he said. Then he repeated himself again: “I say, ‘Why are you doing this for me?’ ”
“Can you be more explicit?” I asked. When I saw the confusion on his face, I worded the question another way. “What do you mean to ask when you say, ‘Why are you doing this for me?’ What do you think that I am doing for you?”
“You a white man helpin’ out a nigga chil’. You teachin’ me how to talk white like you. Why you doin’ this? Why you foolin’ with me?”
His earnest gaze touched me, and I was stung by his honest question. I turned away and felt for my handkerchief, then blew my nose. After folding my handkerchief, I was about to replace it when, without asking, Pan took it from me.
He leaned forward. “Look at me,” he said, and with his small hand, he reached over and pulled my chin to face him. Then, with supreme care, he used the cloth to dab away a droplet of water that had slipped from under my eye patch. “That eye weepin’,” he said. I was so touched that I rose and went to stand before a shelf of books, feigning interest while I composed myself.
He waited until I was seated again. “That eye hurt you much?” he asked.
“Does your eye pain you?” I corrected.
He gave a deep sigh. “Mr. Burton. You keep stoppin’ me, tellin’ me how to talk, I don’ ever get a chance to hear what you got to say,” he protested, then looked puzzled when I chuckled.
* * *
AS TIME PASSED, Pan continued to help Robert around the house and Molly in the kitchen—Molly’s only complaint now was his constant correction of her grammar—but increasingly, I called on him to assist me with my many projects. In his eagerness to understand, he was filled with questions and freely shared his observations. His carefree countenance broke through my guarded reserve, and over the next five years I came to care deeply for the boy.
But now he was missing! Could it be that he was stolen for a slave? It was a constant fear among the Negroes of Philadelphia, for it happened often. I imagined how desperate Henry must feel, as I recalled his own terror at being taken again for a slave. The thought of Pan meeting with this fate filled me with dread. He was quick-witted but had always been frail and surely could not survive the hard life of a slave.
If he had been stolen, he must be retrieved. And since I was traveling south for my work, could I not do so? Yet, the thought of it—the idea of deliberately exposing myself to people who bought and sold Negroes—terrified me. I had worked hard for the last fifteen years to move away from my past toward safety, and now the leaden ball of fear, one that had receded but had never truly left me, began again to grow.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Glory over Everything includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kathleen Grissom. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In the follow-up to her beloved novel, The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom returns to the riveting story of Jamie Pyke, the son of a black slave and a white plantation owner forced to flee his Virginia home to avoid being sold as a slave. Glory over Everything opens in Philadelphia in 1830, where Jamie now passes as the white Mr. James Burton, an artist and silversmith of renown. But when his lover, Caroline, finds herself pregnant, James fears that his years of deception will unravel with the birth of their child. In the meantime, James learns that slave catchers have abducted his young servant, Pan, the only son of Henry, the fugitive slave responsible for James’s safe passage to Philadelphia years before. Aware of his debt to Henry, and mourning Caroline’s tragic death in childbirth, James undertakes an odyssey to North Carolina to rescue Pan. With help from Sukey, a former Tall Oaks slave, and a series of Underground Railroad sympathizers, James must face up to his true identity and some of his greatest fears.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. “I had met Henry twenty years earlier, when, at the age of thirteen, I arrived in Philadelphia, ill and terrified and fleeing for my life.” How does James’s flight from Tall Oaks mark his life going forward? Why does Henry come to James’s aid, and what does he represent to James? What details from their early interactions complicate their relationship as adults?
2. “I had never and would never consider myself a Negro. In fact, the idea disgusted me.” How does James reconcile his biracial identity with his own racist attitudes? To what extent does his denial of his ethnicity serve as a means of self-preservation in the racist society he inhabits?
3. Why does Pan’s unexplained disappearance distress James? Compare and contrast the dangers from slave catchers that Pan and James face. Why do you think Kathleen Grissom chose to alternate these characters’ narratives at key points in the novel?
4. Why does James conceal his biracial status from Caroline Preston, the married daughter of socially prominent Philadelphia aristocrats? How does her pregnancy threaten James’s entire existence? How might Caroline’s discovery of his biracial status have altered the trajectory of the novel? Why do you think Kathleen Grissom chose not to pursue that storyline?
5. “‘I can provide [room and board] for you in my home, where you will be downstairs with our household help.’” As a newly minted apprentice at Burton’s Silversmith, why does James feel insulted to live below stairs with the black servants? How do Delia, Ed, and Robert react to having a white person living with them?
6. Describe James’s relationship with Mrs. Burton. What role does the bird Malcolm play in their bond? How is their connection strengthened by the tragedies they have experienced? How does James’s discovery of the Burtons’ views on slavery affect him?
7. From the reactions of his white and black acquaintances, how convincing are James’s efforts to pass as a white silversmith in Philadelphia? What does Delia’s theft of James’s letter in the aftermath of his adoption by the Burtons suggest about her intentions? What reasons might Delia have for outing James?
8. “I had loved [Mrs. Burton] as a mother. . . . A difference existed after she learned the truth from Delia. Yet I did not hold her responsible; for how could I blame her for an inability to love the part of me that I, too, loathed.” How does Delia’s revelation of James’s race affect his relationship with his Mrs. Burton? What does her dismissal of Delia imply about her acceptance of James?
9. James refers to his attraction to Caroline Preston as an “uncomfortable fascination.” How does Caroline characterize her feelings for James? Given their differences in age and social class, what explains their connection? To what extent is Caroline’s mother, Cristina Cardon, an enabler of their illicit affair?
10. Discuss the remarkable events that converge to liberate Pan from the Southwood plantation. What does the collaboration of Sukey and the Spencer family in the daring rescue suggest about the racially progressive views of many white Americans during this era? Given the unique dangers James faces in his efforts to retrieve Pan from the plantation’s overseer, Bill Thomas, why does he persist?
11. “From above, thick corded vines netted with Spanish moss draped down to ensnare us. With each vine I pushed away I thought of cottonmouth moccasins, the copperheads, and the rattlesnakes that were known to inhabit the place.” What does the Great Dismal Swamp represent to runaway slaves and their pursuers? Why do the runaways seek refuge there, despite the many dangers? Why does the Spencer family, along with many others, fear it?
12. Why does Sukey’s delivery of her baby in a cave in the Great Dismal Swamp cause James to panic and flee? How does Pan respond to James’s act of cowardice? To what extent does James redeem himself in Pan’s eyes through his treatment of Sukey’s infant daughter, Kitty?
13. “Where, then, did I belong? Was my birth an accident of fate, or was my life intended to have some purpose?” How do the circumstances of James’s birth and upbringing shape his sense of self at the beginning of the novel? By the end, what events have enabled his new understanding and acceptance of himself?
14. How does Kathleen Grissom’s use of multiple narrators deepen your appreciation of the work? If the author had chosen to include other characters’ perspectives, whose would you have been especially interested to read, and why?
15. In James’s last letter to his mother, Belle, he reveals his decision to change his daughter’s name from Caroline to Belle. What role does his servant Robert play in the radical transformation of James’s feelings for his mother? Discuss how the conclusion of the novel brings the arc of James’s character full circle.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Ask members of your club to consider the social and political causes that are most important to them. How willing would they be to risk their lives to improve the lives of total strangers? Consider what leading a double life as a secret member of the Underground Railroad would have been like in nineteenth-century America.
2. Glory over Everything confronts many serious questions of race and prejudice. Compare the state of race relations in the nineteenth century with those of the present day. To what extent does racial prejudice persist in our country? How does James’s anxiety as a biracial person passing as white compare to the concerns of a person of mixed race in America today? Consider the case of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claimed to be and passed as African-American.
3. Toward the end of Glory over Everything, James undergoes an epiphany in his thoughts about race, himself, and his role in the world. Ask members of your group whether or not they have ever experienced epiphanies relating to their personal identities, faith, careers, or relationships. If they have, discuss what spurred these realizations. How did these epiphanies enable them to change or refocus their lives?
A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom
Can you reflect on how your phenomenal success as a first-time novelist has affected your life?
Over these past few years, what to me has the most meaning are the exchanges that I have had with so many wonderful book clubs. That the readers connected so deeply to the characters in The Kitchen House gave me a sense that I had done my job. From the beginning I wanted others to experience the story as vividly as I had.
You have related the unusual origins of The Kitchen House: how a historic map of a house you were renovating in Virginia included a detail about slaves that began to obsess you and kindle your creativity. How would you compare that experience to the series of events that led to your writing Glory over Everything?
In many ways the experience was very similar. Once again, in Glory over Everything, the characters appeared spontaneously and insisted that I write their story. After finishing The Kitchen House, I had every intention of writing about Crow Mary, a Native American woman who led a fascinating life. I went out to the Crow reservation in Montana to study her culture and to search out more documentation. Yet, while researching Crow Mary, though I felt her spirit, something was stopping me from absorbing her culture in the way I knew I must. In fact it began to feel as though a veil had come down and Jamie, Belle’s son from The Kitchen House, was standing in front of Crow Mary to let me know that I was to tell his story first. So, with some initial reluctance, that is what I did.
The success of The Kitchen House was due in part to its adoption by book clubs around the country. Why do you think The Kitchen House lends itself so well to group discussion and interpretation?
Though some might expect The Kitchen House to be a story of race, most come to see it as a story of humans, all caught in the trap of slavery. The Kitchen House is a story of complicated characters and nontraditional relationships. Through discussion these are looked at closely and, as is often the case, new insight brings clarity and even compassion.
In Glory over Everything, you revisit many members of the Pyke family that you portrayed in The Kitchen House, but you shift the focus of your narrative to Belle’s son James. Can you compare your experiences in narrating books from both a woman’s and a man’s perspectives?
The gender actually made little difference. In Glory over Everything I heard Jamie’s voice as clearly as I’d heard Lavinia’s and Belle’s from The Kitchen House. The difference was that both Lavinia and Belle were open to me and very forthcoming; whereas Jamie, a man with a secret, was guarded and kept me at a distance when I first met him. For that reason I found Jamie both frustrating and intriguing. Fortunately, other characters, such as Pan, were quite verbal and gave me deeper insight into Jamie until gradually he became less cautious and was ready to reveal himself.
The Kitchen House relates the intimate details of the lives of the slaves of Tall Oaks, as told from the perspective of a young white girl. Glory over Everything examines the lives of black and white characters mainly from the perspective of a biracial male narrator who is passing as white. How challenging is it for you to get yourself inside the heads of the fictional characters you create? Please describe the kinds of research do you before you begin writing.
The best way for me to describe the way this process works is to say that I don’t get into their heads, but they get into mine. They come fully formed and are complete characters. I don’t always see them, but I feel who they are in the deepest sense. Jamie was not particularly likable when I first met him. Eventually I came to understand his deep fear, and as my compassion and understanding for him grew, he opened up to me.
For my research I visit the places I feel my characters inhabited. There I walk and absorb whatever comes to me. There are times when I come upon something, such as a torture device, that I feel such pain and despair that I want to fall to my knees. Often I cry over it after I uncover the details of how it might have been used. When I see something that gets me happily excited—perhaps an artifact at a historical site—I research it with joy. I’ve learned that when I have this type of strong reaction, one of my characters wants me to have the information so they can use it to better tell their story.
How did you decide to set Glory over Everything in Philadelphia? What plot opportunities does an urban setting provide that a more confined or rural setting, such as a plantation, does not?
I don’t decide on the setting. My characters do.
I always saw Jamie in Philadelphia. I’ve been there a number of times and happen to love the city, but curiously, when I began my research, I found the city to be overwhelming, just as it initially was for Jamie. It wasn’t until Jamie left for the rural South that both he and I felt less constraint.
Glory over Everything is narrated by James Pyke, Pan, and Caroline Preston. How did you decide to tell the novel from these three characters’ perspectives?
Actually there is a fourth voice—that of Sukey. In fact, hers, I believe, is the soul of the story.
Interestingly, I don’t choose who will be the characters to speak. They present themselves to me as though in a movie. They arrive fully formed and each speaks in his or her own distinctive voice. I can’t say that I decide on who will speak—instead, as the characters appear, I go with the ones who take center stage.
You have mentioned that the troubling aspects of slavery were extremely challenging for you to write about in The Kitchen House. To what extent was that the case in Glory over Everything?
Writing about slavery, I’m sure, would be challenging for anyone. However, Sukey’s narrative was so painful that I cried my way through her story. Each time she spoke, I dreaded what was to come. Yet I loved her so that I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.
As well, I loved young Pan, and to see his innocence taken away was heartbreaking.
In writing The Kitchen House, many times I considered stopping because of the violence. This time I better understood the process, and realized that, though there were times I was in tears, I needed to write what I saw. I feel that my job is to tell the story so the reader can see and feel what I see and feel.
In many respects, the Great Dismal Swamp seems almost like a character in Glory over Everything. Can you describe your acquaintance with it, and how it became such an essential part of the novel?
Once I knew that some of my characters were headed in the direction of the Great Dismal Swamp I began to visit and research the area. In time I learned about the Maroon societies that had once lived there. These communities were formed by escaped slaves who not only found refuge in this swamp but made a home for themselves in what many consider a hostile land.
As the name suggests, the Great Dismal Swamp can appear forbidding, but after visiting it a number of times I found incredible beauty there as well. For those interested in learning more about the Maroon communities, Daniel Sayers, an anthropologist who studied the Great Dismal Swamp, wrote a book titled A Desolate Place for a Defiant People. As well, some of the artifacts that he uncovered will be displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in fall 2016.
You have said that “DNA isn’t what family is about. . . . I believe family is about love, and love is color-blind.” To what extent does the denouement of Glory over Everything bear out that conviction?
Once again, in Glory over Everything, need and love create a family unrelated by DNA. I might add, with this mention of DNA, that I always found it unusual that family is most often defined as those who share the same blood. Doesn’t every family begin with partners who don’t share the same DNA?
Do you know if you will return to these characters in a future novel? What kinds of considerations factor into your decision-making about your future writing projects?
As soon as Glory over Everything is published I am heading out to Montana to once again begin my research on Crow Mary. Her call to me becomes stronger every day.
I do have a niggling feeling that others from Glory over Everything might want their stories told, but this time I have already done some bargaining. First Crow Mary, and then . . . we shall see.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Written as a sequel to The Kitchen House, Glory Over Everything can also be read as a stand alone book. With wonderful characters and a great story line, you will not want to put this book down! Loved it!
Enjoyed it very much
Though not my usual genre it has become an all time favorite.
Block off a few hours to read this you won't be able to stop!
Great second book after The Kitchen House I love story, drama, love, setting- everything!
AudioBook Review: Overall: 5 Narration: 4 Story: 5 A tale that brought to me, the tension and heartfelt awe of the children in The King and I when The Small House of Uncle Thomas was performed. Predating the American Civil War by over a quarter-century, the story is one of contrasts: perception and reality, slavery and freedom, hope and despair, and done with a sense that brings everything into focus despite the oppositional elements. James Burton is living a lie: a light skinned black man, thriving and succeeding as a silversmith in Philadelphia, far from the reality of his early life as the son of both a slave and a master. His journey to Burton from the young runaway slave Jamie Pike is a tale shared early in the story, giving dimension and background to listeners, providing a perspective of life viewed through his unique eyes. When his lover reveals her pregnancy, he must reveal his true identity but that revelation is waylaid when his beloved servant, Pan, is taken by bounty hunters and sold into slavery. A runaway slave himself, Burton knows that he is endangering himself by proximity to his former home, but a debt to Pan’s father must be paid. Throughout the story, these revelations are brought forward as we meet several characters both free and enslaved that share hopes and dreams, and Burton’s secret comes ever closer to the surface. With the advent of Sukey and her determination to be free, and to see Pan returned to freedom, with her own hopes to find that glorious state. Moments on the Underground Railroad, hiding in swampland, ever vigilant and watchful, and new moments that test and try everyone’s mettle, the story is gripping and engrossing, and fully emotional. Narration for this story was provided by Santino Fontana, Heather Alicia Simms, Madeleine Maby and Kyle Beltran. I’m not normally a fan of multiple narrators, but these four managed to present the story in a way that felt coherent, with conversations flowing naturally, reminiscences presented with a near lyrical storytelling flow, and never were moments over-played or overacted. You won’t go wrong with either the narrated or traditionally read version of this book- but be prepared: the desire for freedom did not come without its heartache or tears. I received an AudioBook of the title from Simon and Schuster for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Great story and charecter degreatvelopment
If you enjoyed The Kitchen House, you will love this beautifully written novel as well!
Having just finished The Kitchen House, I was able to move right on to this sequel. And I was caught right up in the story and couldn't turn the pages fast enough to see what happened. It was a very fast read for me - and I would recommend both books.
This is a sequel to Kathleen Grissom's "The Kitchen House" but you do not have to have read that book to enjoy this one. I loved the Kitchen House and enjoyed this book just as much. The story picks up many years later as we follow the life of Jaime Pyke who has moved to Philadelphia. As a runaway, he was hidden away by Henry, also a runaway while he is healing from a vicious attack shortly after arriving in Philadelphia. Henry takes him into the city and he lands a job as an apprentice to a silversmith, Mr. Burton. Being able to pass himself off as white allows himself to be part of the Philadelphia Society. As he works for him and lives in his house, he eventually works his way into the hearts of both Mr. and Mrs. Burton. He is eventually adopted by the Burtons. When the Burtons die he inherits the business, the house and their estate. The story goes back and forth between the present and Jamie's past life on Twin Oaks. This gave us the background we needed to follow the story whether we had read the previous book or not. When Henry comes to James' house for help, he feels he must help him to pay back the debt he feels he owes him. Henry's son, Pan, has been working for James as a houseboy and has disappeared. Henry thinks he has been taken by slave traders and put on a boat south to be sold as a slave. There are other things going on in James' life at this point, but I do not want to spoil the story so will not share, that put him in extreme danger if he goes after Pan, but he follows through with his promise to Henry. Not only does the story does go back and forth in time but it is told from different points of view by several of the characters from this book as well as others who were also in The Kitchen House. This was not a book that could be read in one sitting. It is painful to read about the conditions and situations that the African American people were going through during this time. The characters that I disliked in the first book, Marshall the plantation owner, Rankin the overseer and his son Jake were either in the story or were referred to in this one. I still hated them. The characters of Belle, Sukey, Miss Lavinia and her daughter Ellie also appeared in this book and either helped or found help for James and others in the book. They are still heroes in my eyes. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review that you do not have to have read The Kitchen House to enjoy this book, but I do encourage you to read it first so you have a full picture of this story. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.
I loved the Kitchen House and so I was excitied there was a sequel. I loved Pan and couldn't get enough of him. The writer really gets you invested in the characters. I wouldn't mind another book following these characters.
Kathleen Grissom presents a novel of great depth of character, an edgy plot, and a resolution that should satisfy the most critical reader. Told from multiple points of view, Grissom presents different characters with such clarity that no one should be lost when she switches voice. Whether it's Pan, who speaks in a slave dialect, or James Burton, a light-skinned black man passing as an educated white, Grissom captures the dialect and language of 1830 Philadelphia perfectly. The plot is tight, fraught with tension. The setting is presented almost as another character with an intensity of detail that doesn't tire the reader. I was so swept into the lives of the main characters, James and Pan, as well as several who reappear from The Kitchen House that I was nearly in tears when it ended. The ending of the story didn't make me cry; the fact that the story was over did. Highly recommended to book clubs and discerning readers everywhere
Glory over Everything by Kathleen Grissom is an absolutely fabulous book and is what a book should be as the writing is superb. Grissom knows exactly how to create wonderful characters, how to set the scene and how to reach the perfect climax leading to a glorious read. When I finished reading Glory over Everything I was left happily teary-eyed and in awe as her book was that good. Be prepared for a good read as the characters Henry, Sukey, Pan, James, Robert, and Caroline will keep your interest. I will give one tidbit that will give away some of the plot as Sukey almost made it to freedom. Read the book and you'll find out how Sukey was almost free and paid a high price for almost getting there. If you loved reading The Kitchen House, I'm sure you'll love Glory over Everything as much or even more. Glory over Everything is blissful reading. Highly recommend. Review written after downloading a galley from Edelweiss.
Only thirteen years old and he’s fleeing for his life. Young Jamie Pyke’s world has been turned upside down. His beloved and now dead Grandmother had raised him as white. His abusive father reveals to him the truth and now intends to sell him as a slave. Jamie kills his father and heads north to freedom. There an escaped slave named Henry helps him survive and encourages him to seek his fortune in Philadelphia. Kathleen Grissom’s new book, Glory Over Everything, is a deeply affecting tale. Overall, I found this to be a very compelling read. I’ve thought about it many times since I finished it. It’s a very good story that really drives home the plight of the enslaved from the breaking up of families to the physical and psychological abuse they endured. I was somewhat bothered by the deceit exercised by Jamie/James on the family that took him in. I understand why he felt compelled to do so, but it still doesn’t sit well with my personal sense of right and wrong. It’s sad to think that slavery still exists in the world today. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but the world would be an infinitely better place if mankind treated their fellow humans with more compassion and kindness. This haunting story with its conflicted protagonist driven by secrets and fear is one terrific read.