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A powerful and moving novel
The Invention of Wings is the third novel by bestselling American author, Sue Monk Kidd. In it, Kidd takes the bare facts surrounding Charleston’s famous (and infamous) 19th century abolitionist/emancipist sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and, as she puts it, grafts fiction onto truth to weave a fascinating and inspirational account of early abolitionism in America. Kidd employs two narrators: Sarah Grimke, and the slave she is given by her mother (and attempts to free) on her eleventh birthday, Hetty Handful Grimke. From this starting point, the contrast in their lives as they grow up is starkly illustrated. Even at the tender age of eleven, Sarah knew slavery was wrong, but it was years later before she “…saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.” Handful’s narration consistently brings things into perspective: “White folks think you care about everything in the world that happens to them, every time they stub their toe.” Kidd populates her novel with character both real and fictitious: Denmark Vesey, charismatic and seditious; Charlotte, loving and determined; Mary, cruel and unpredictable. Sewing and quilts, the spirit tree, stuttering, blackbirds and Quakers all have their part to play. Through all that life throws at them, the women somehow remain friends. Handful often has a perceptive take on the situation: “She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of people around her, not by the law……I tried to tell her that. I said, ‘my body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.’” and “This ain’t the same Sarah who left here. She had a firm look in her eye and her voice didn’t dither and hesitate like it used to. She’d been boiled down to a good, strong broth.” Kidd treats the reader to some marvellously descriptive prose: “Mother’s letter in response arrived in September. Her small, tight scrawl was thick with fury and ink.” and “It was the time of year when migrating crows wheeled across the sky, thunderous flocks that moved like a single veil, and I heard them, out there in the wild chirruping air. Turning to the window, I watched the birds fill the sky before disappearing, and when the air was still again, I watched the empty place where they had been” are just two examples. A powerful and moving novel.
THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd
Kidd’s retelling of the Grimke sisters and their fight for equality for women and the abolition of slavery is told with sympathy and fact. Although much of the story is fiction, Kidd manages to remain true to the real life story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke in the days and decades before the Civil War. A number of “big names” appear in the sisters’ ongoing struggle to be heard in a male dominated South and respected in a male dominated North.
The Invention of Wings
The tale loses some momentum in the middle, possibly because the sisters’ actual lives also stalled in their middle years. The addition of the totally fictional characters of Charlotte and Hetty carry the story well, giving the slave side of Southern life. The horrors of slavery are graphically depicted.
I can recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in Southern life, abolition, women’s rights, and the life style and treatment of women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina. Also interesting is the role of the church (in many permutations) in the condoning of slavery and the treatment of women.
5 of 5 stars
Where to start in trying to explain all the amazing things this novel contained. It is powerful, intense, profound and amazing in every way. The real life Gremke sisters, born into a family of wealth, on a plantation that of course had slaves, in Charleston in the middle of the 19th century, but before the Civil War. This is their story and the story of others who also fought for the abolishment of slavery. It is also the story of Handful, a slave and her mother on the Gremke plantation.
Some was hard to read, the whippings and other mistreatment of the slaves, their longing to be free and the many times they had to swallow what they really thought when in their owner's presence. The conversations, the characters, well rounded and exactly right. Sarah Mapps, a black woman who opened the first school for blacks in Philadelphia, a free black and a woman trying to influence others in her own way. So many characters that actually existed in history.
Loved that the author took time to explain her research and her fascination with this subject. She also explains who and what were real and what was not. Always appreciated in a historical novel.
Read yesterday that this has been picked up by Oprah's bookclub and I would not be at all surprised to find that this will be made into a movie someday. Not because it is melodramatic, because it is not, but because the lives of the Gremke sisters need to be acknowledged and more widely known.