Published by Viking on January 7, 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
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.
I have never been a history person. I can remember a date as well as anybody but I have a hard time connecting with the subject because I have a hard time connecting with a name in a book. Lately though, I’ve realized how beautiful historical fiction novels can be because they bring the reader straight into the history. You can feel empathy for the characters. You can see their personalities. You can understand where they might have been coming from and make your own opinions based on that. Historical novels, done well, can really be perspective-changing experiences.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is just that. It is a beautifully-written historical fiction novel that follows the life of the first public women abolitionist, Sarah Grimké and the slave that was given to her at the young age of eleven, Handful. The lives of these two women intertwine in a beautiful, literally life-changing way.
Review: It was beautifully-written and the character development was thorough. The story is organized with a chapter in the perspective of Sarah and then one in the perspective of Handful. This dual-perspective approach sometimes throws me off and makes me distrust the author (For example…Allegiant…I should really write a post about that series). In some books, it’s used as a (not-so-subtle) device that the author uses for bad plot development later. In this story, Kidd uses both perspectives beautifully and the story would have lacked substantially without it. The two character’s perspectives work together in a flawless way to help the reader understand that “white” didn’t always mean free and that “a slave” didn’t always mean completely imprisoned.
The one thing that I think could be better about this story would be if we were able to see a different perspective from the rest of Sarah’s family. We get enough of her sister Angelina (another famous woman abolitionist), but we only get one side of Sarah’s mother, older sister, and father. If I had been able to understand their thoughts better, if the characters had been a little rounder, the novel would have been even more complete.
Despite this, this is an amazing novel. It taught me a little about my nation’s history that I would never have known otherwise in a beautiful, inspiring, heart-breaking way. I give this five stars and would recommend it to all. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you should know where you came from.
I wanted to say, Who am I to do this, a woman? But that voice was not mine. It was Father’s voice. It was Thomas’. It belonged to Israel, to Catherine, and to Mother. It belonged to the church in Charleston and the Quakers in Philadelphia. It would not, if I could help it, belong to me.
For a moment I felt the quiet hungering thing that comes inside when you return to the place of your origins, and then the ache of mis-belongs. It was beautiful, this place, and it was savage. It swallowed you and made you a part of itself, or if you proved too inassimilable, it spit you out like the pit of a plum.
Was it ever right to sacrifice one’s truth for expedience?
I couldn’t explain that rising up, this coming fully to myself, the audacity and authority my life had found. It took me aback, as well, and I closed my eyes, and I blessed it. It was like arriving finally in the place I’d left and I felt then I would never be an exile again.
Before stepping onto the public stage, she experienced intense longings for a vocation, crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, loneliness, self-doubt, ostracism, and suffocating silence. It seemed to me she had invented her wings not so much in spite of these things, but because of them.
It is a story of finding a voice, of building your wings, so that you may stand up, speak out, and ultimately fly.