Friday, July 10, 2015

The Kitchen Madonna by Rumer Godden

Janet and Gregory Thomas are the children of two busy architects. Janet (7) is pretty and friendly. Gregory (9) is shy and small for his age. After a series of unsuccessful nannies, Marta is hired. Unlike the other nannies who played games with the children, she is more sad and serious and Gregory identifies with her.

Marta tells stories of her childhood in the Ukraine and especially of her family's warm and cluttered kitchen. During one of her story-telling sessions she admits that she misses having an icon in the room. Gregory sets out to get her one by first going to the British Museum to study them, and then by going to an expensive jewelry store to buy one. Learning that he cannot afford anything close to what she described to him, he determines to make her one.

With no materials of his own, he has to overcome his shyness and ask the hatmaker and the candy shop lady for scraps from their trade. As the project develops so does his courage and ingenuity - and his willingness to give up his own comforts for the good of another. In fact, when the gift is finished, Marta does not cry and hug him (as his mother does) but shakes his hand as if he were a grown man.

No matter what your religious convictions, this is a beautiful story of the transforming power of self-giving love; it's definitely one of the loveliest stories I have read in a long time.

Rumer Godden is a fine author who skillfully weaves stories of faith without the saccharine. She wrote The Kitchen Madonna in 1967. Previous Godden titles that I've reviewed are: China Court, In this House of Brede, and Kingfishers Catch Fire.


Carol said...

I've only read one book by Rumer Godden, The Story of Holly & Ivy, which was just lovely. I'd reaaly like to read In This House of Brede & this one you've reviewed also.

gretchenjoanna said...

Last year I spent a couple of months immersed in Godden's children's books, which seemed to be the perfect genre during a very stressful period of my life. They were more accessible, or at least less challenging than my usual literary fare, but the writing was wonderful and the stories deep. I didn't feel that I was reading for escape when I read those books. Eventually I plan to write responses to them; in the meantime, I am so happy to read your review. I hope you read some more and write on them, too. Thank you!

Farm Girl said...

I love Rumer's books! I haven't read that one. It sounds wonderful.