The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
Why did you choose this book? this was a book club selection
When did you read this book? March 2016
Who should read this book? readers of pre-Civil War historical fiction
Here is a synopsis of The Invention of Wings from Goodreads
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.
This one has been on my list for awhile, but I finally got around to reading it because it was our March book club selection. And I’m so glad it was! There is so much to like about this book! The very first thing to love is that the book acquainted me with some historically important American woman about whom I’d never heard; Sarah Grimké and her sister, Angelina. The sisters were raised in a wealthy Charleston family in a time and place where owning slaves was a way of life. When Sarah was given her very own slave, Handful, for her eleventh birthday, she rebelled and spent the rest of her life fighting for freedom, both for the slaves like Handful, as well as women like herself. This was a perfect read for March, Women’s History Month, because much of the work of Sarah and Angelina were involved in laid the groundwork for the fight for women’s rights.
I enjoyed the strong women characters in this story, not only Sarah and Angelina, but also Handful and her mother, Charlotte. Charlotte in particular was an interesting and complex woman. She was strong and at times willful, yet at the same time she was soft-hearted. I loved the tales she spun handed down from her African ancestors and the strength they gave to her and Handful. Sometimes I questioned her decisions when she took risks that put herself in danger, but Charlotte believed strongly in what she was doing and bravely acted on her feelings even when she knew the consequences.
Another thing I really appreciated was the author’s notes at the end of the book. She very clearly defined what was fact and what was the result of her imagining based on history. I also enjoyed reading how she came to write about the sisters and how Handful’s voice grabbed her and made her write.
I also enjoyed how this book dove-tails very nicely with another book I just finished, Clarina Nichols, a contemporary of the Grimké who was also involved in the abolition movement and the women’s rights movement.
Though it’s a little late in the month, there is still time to celebrate Women’s History Month with a good read. This one is well worth your time!
My Rating: ✰✰✰✰½ 4½ StarsMy Book Club’s Rating: ✰✰✰✰½ — 4½ Stars