The Invention of Wings

In My Favorites on March 21, 2014 at 8:53 pm


by Sue Monk Kidd

Historical Fiction/©2014/359 pages

Publisher’s Notes:

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Thoughts:

She is such an outstanding writer, so it is easy to understand why I always truly enjoy reading a Sue Monk Kidd book. The Invention of Wings did not disappoint.  This book is Southern historical fictional at its best. It is actually based on extensive biographical material of the Grimke sisters, who were at the forefront of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements in the early 1800’s and inspirational to Harriet Beecher Stowe subsequent novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin– yet, I had never heard of them.  That in itself is worth the price of the book.

I appreciate how the story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of the two main characters: Sarah, the daughter of the house, and Handful, a slave. The first has to deal with the social rigidity her time, and the second has to deal with living in slavery.  Handful, with amazing insight, noted that “My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.”

Their bond is firmly established at the beginning of the book when Handful is presented to Sarah as a birthday gift, and it is masterfully entwined throughout. There are several horrific scenes that all too clearly depict the cruelty of the slavery system, but Handful somehow still manages to keep above it all and push the confines of her role. She never loses hope or her independent spirit. The same can be said of Sarah as she walked the path to stretch the boundaries of acceptable behavior for women of her time as she spoke out against slavery and the rights of women. 

Overall, this book tells a compelling story with amazing primary and secondary characters (Charlotte and Sky come immediately to my mind), with the added bonus that it has its basis in historical fact. A very satisfying read.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars


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