Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Viking; 1/7/2014
Hardcover, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670024780
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:

Very Highly Recommended historical fiction

"Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy."(location 8)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd mixes fact with fiction as it explores the life of Sarah Grimke and slave Hetty “Handful” Grimke in Charleston, South Carolina. Starting in 1803 on Sarah's eleventh birthday when she is given Hetty, ten, as her own waiting maid, The Invention of Wings follows real facts from the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister, Angelina, and mixes these facts with the fictional character of Hetty. Sarah Grimké was real historical figure. As a daughter of a slaveholding Southern family her early support of abolition (and feminist causes) made her a controversial figure.

The narrative is told in chapters that alternate between the voices of Hetty and Sarah. This juxtaposition of their very different voices and circumstances is used to full advantage by Kidd. She gives individual voices to both women and shows how each of them are oppressed. It is in vastly different ways, but both women are constrained and enslaved by the times and the system they are born into. Grimke, however, has the ability to muster the courage to break loose and speak out against the system without the horrendous punishments that are inflicted upon Hetty and the other slaves. 

This is a fictionalized account of Grimke's life, however, Kidd tries to follow the facts, using some artistic license and grafting fact to fiction, while remaining true to the broad historical facts of Sarah's life. There are other real, historical figures written into the story as well. At the end Kidd includes a list of numerous historical resources she consulted should readers want to further explore the life of the Grimke sisters, as well as several other different areas covered in the book (historical quilts).

Besides the admirable character development, Kidd is an accomplished writer. Here she has masterfully composed an astute novel that seamlessly blends both the facts and the fiction and will keep readers engrossed to the end.

Just savor Hetty's description of water: "First time I saw it, my feet hopped in place and I lifted my hand over my head and danced. That’s when I got true religion. I didn’t know to call it religion back then, didn’t know Amen from what-when, I just knew something came into me that made me feel the water belonged to me. I would say, that’s my water out there. I saw it turn every color. It was green one day, then brown, next day yellow as cider. Purple, black, blue. It stayed restless, never ceasing. Boats coming and going on top, fishes underneath." (Location 324)

The Invention of Wings has been chosen as an Oprah's Book Club 2.0 selection.

"People say love gets fouled by a difference big as ours. I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt. I didn’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get." (Location 647

Day before the storm came, a still feeling weighed on the air. You felt like you were waiting, but you didn’t know what for. ( Location 767)


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Viking via Netgalley for review purposes.

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