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The Invention of Wings

by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judi Sauerbrey

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FictionZeal (07/27/15)

from FictionZeal.com re: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
One is a slave in her body; the other is a slave in her mind. Handful (Hetty), born into slavery, had no way out. She was at the mercy of the wealthy Grimke family. She could see the Charleston Harbor in a distance from Sarah’s upstairs room and dreamed of leaving someday. Sarah Grimke is given ownership of ten year old Handful on her eleventh birthday. She didn’t want a slave and even at that tender age, didn’t understand how you could own another person. At her father’s teachings, she felt destined to greatness someday but women were banned from such things. Women were meant to get married and raise children.

The story begins in the early nineteenth century in Charleston, SC. It is Sarah’s and Handful’s story – alternately narrated. In the Author’s note, Sue Monk Kidd said “My aim was not to write a thinly fictionalized account of Sarah Grimke’s history, but a thickly imagined story inspired by her life.” So, she combines fact with fiction to flesh out the lives of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who became devoted to the abolition of slavery. Since this is based on a true story, we can grab our ‘search’ button and know the ending, at least for Sarah and Angelina Grimke. I didn’t feel the ending was tied up so well for the fictional Handful and her sister; I felt that portion was left a bit open to our imaginations. In reality, Hetty died at a rather young age; Ms Kidd kept her alive in order to provide both sides of a story. I rated this 4 out of 5.
FictionZeal (05/28/15)

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
One is a slave in her body; the other is a slave in her mind. Handful (Hetty), born into slavery, had no way out. She was at the mercy of the wealthy Grimke family. She could see the Charleston Harbor in a distance from Sarah’s upstairs room and dreamed of leaving someday. Sarah Grimke is given ownership of ten year old Handful on her eleventh birthday. She didn’t want a slave and even at that tender age, didn’t understand how you could own another person. At her father’s teachings, she felt destined to greatness someday but women were banned from such things. Women were meant to get married and raise children.

The story begins in the early nineteenth century in Charleston, SC. It is Sarah’s and Handful’s story – alternately narrated. In the Author’s note, Sue Monk Kidd said “My aim was not to write a thinly fictionalized account of Sarah Grimke’s history, but a thickly imagined story inspired by her life.” So, she combines fact with fiction to flesh out the lives of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who became devoted to the abolition of slavery. Since this is based on a true story, we can grab our ‘search’ button and know the ending, at least for Sarah and Angelina Grimke. I didn’t feel the ending was tied up so well for the fictional Handful and her sister; I felt that portion was left a bit open to our imaginations. In reality, Hetty died at a rather young age; Ms Kidd kept her alive in order to provide both sides of a story. I rated this 4 out of 5.
Marion M (09/17/14)

The Invention of Wings
Our neighborhood book group has chosen "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd.

I majored in English Literature at Carnegie Mellon University, and, after receiving an M.Ed. from Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, taught Children's Literature and Reading in Massachusetts. I also taught both
reading and history in Bethesda, Maryland.

This book was not my choice, and I am having a difficult time reading it.

After I had come to the conclusion that the most bothersome factor was it was NOT written in the language of those times (as the books "A Gathering of Days" by BIos, and "Night Journeys" by Avi are), I pulled up an interview by BookBrowse with Ms. Monk Kidd and your interviewer states: "You have managed to capture the voice of that period .... You get the language of the day on paper." WHAT?

The interview is revealing in that Ms. Monk Kidd does not even pretend to have written "in the language of the times" (which she says contained "rhetoric, piety, and stilted phrases" - even though that is accurate!), and cavalierly confesses to having "brought a modern sensibility to it" and to setting "her (Sarah) free to speak from a timeless place". She admits to having read the Grimke sisters' diaries, and to having rejected that way of writing! I would much rather read the slave narrative by Elizabeth Keckley, "Behind the Scenes". She was Mary Todd Lincoln's companion, and it is an authentic book.

My "Children's Literature" professor in graduate school was Dr. May Reinhardt, who has a Ph. D. from Harvard. If an author was to choose to write historical fiction, we learned (quite forcefully) he/she had the duty to write accurately. Fabrication lessened any value a book of that genre might have.

The sad thing is that when something like this enters the mass market, people who have no clue of historic events (many of which Monk Kidd fudges) or language, are convinced "this is how it was". It does both our history and the history of language a disservice.
Power Reviewer Cloggie Downunder (06/16/14)

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.
Power Reviewer Becky H (02/06/14)

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 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
Power Reviewer Diane S. (12/20/13)

The Invention of Wings
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.
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