Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Invention of Wings

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author:  Sue Monk Kidd
Publication Information:  Viking, Penguin Group, Penguin Random House Company. 2014. 373 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on how much I enjoyed the author's earlier book, The Secret Life of Bees.

Favorite Quote:  "Be careful, you can get enslaved twice, once in your body and once in your mind."

Note: In doing research on this book, I have learned that there are multiple editions of this book - with and without annotations from Oprah Winfrey. I read the one without annotations.

The Invention of Wings is a fictionalized account of the lives of the Grimke sisters. Sarah and Nina Grimke were born into a slave holding family in the heart of Charleston. Their father was a judge and a plantation owner who upheld slavery laws and believed that the woman's place was in the home. The Grimke sisters went on become early proponents of abolition and women's rights.

As a counterpoint to the Grimke sisters, the author has created the character of Hettie or Handful, a slave girl in the Grimke household. On Sarah's birthday one year, her parents give her Handful for her own personal slave.

The book is told in the alternating voices of Sarah and Handful. Sarah's journey is one of fighting against convention, against the society into which she is born, and against her own family to find her voice. As her mother once tells Sarah, "The truth is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse."

Sarah journey takes her away from Charleston to the Quaker north and back again to her hometown even though she finds herself not welcome there. She starts what she believes is a fight for abolition, but finds that it is much more than that. "It has come as a great revelation to me that abolition is different than the desire for racial equality."

Handful's journey is one of trying to find some modicum of control and freedom in a life where neither seem possible. As her mother tells her, "Ain't nobody can write down in a book what you worth." She learns to survive the hard blows life deals her - her mother's disappearance, punishments "for her own good", loss of those she loves. She find her own way out, "I have one mind for the master to see. I have another mind for what I know is me."

I really enjoyed this book and read it almost straight through. I like the counterpoint of the two characters. I did not realize that it was based on actual historical figures until I was well into the book.  I found myself then doing research because the author did such a good job of generating and holding my interest in the characters.

I wanted to know more about the Grimke sisters and what happened to them. I also left the book wishing I could find out more about Hettie and what happened to her - and her individual character did not actually exist. I was sad when the book ended because I was not ready to let go of the story or the characters.

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