Book Review, Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Oh, how I loved The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  I’m usually leery of books Oprah recommends, but this time around she was spot-on to recommend this book. It’s a fascinating exploration through history, slavery and feminism.

The narrative follows an actual person, albeit fictionalize: Sarah Grimke, a young woman from Charleston, South Carolina. Born in 1792 to a large, well to do family, her family was a prominent slave-holding family and her father a judge. When she’s 11 years old, her mother presents her with her very own slave as her birthday present.

Can you imagine?

But it’s real. This actually happened.

Sarah is appalled. As a child, she witnessed a brutal slave beating, which caused a speech impediment. She tries to return Handful, known in reality as Hetty, to her parents, but they refuse. Hetty’s mother, the family’s seamstress, Charlottes, makes Sarah promise to free Hetty if she can. Thus begins Sarah’s road to abolitionist, suffragette and amazing figure in history.

The chapters alternate between Sarah’s viewpoint and Hetty’s viewpoint, with each woman showing us a slice of life in South Carolina before the Civil War. Much of the actions surrounding Hetty’s tales contain bits of historical truth, although Sue Monk Kidd, writing in the afterward, is quick to admit that although she conducted extensive research into the people, she had to invest a lot of it, especially around Hetty’s character. Hetty is mentioned in history, but little is known of her true personality.

Sarah herself is a really inspiring person. I’d never heard of her before, but now I want to read an actual biography of her. Before abolitionism was popular, before women’s rights was on the national consciousness, she advocated for both.  Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for her in 1830s South Carolina to be so vehemently against slaver? Or in the American society of the day, when women could not own property and were not given legal status, advocate for women’s rights?

Sarah was a prolific author and a brave woman. She sat among the blacks at the Quaker Church when even the open-minded Quakers wouldn’t do that. She roomed with a black family when her white landlord kicked her out for her “outrageous” viewpoints. She turned down a marriage proposal because her beloved wouldn’t let her continue her studies for the Quaker ministry as his wife.

Oh, how I love this women. I wish I could time travel and meet her. She’s like my abolitionist/feminist Joan of Arc.

The story of Sarah and Hetty’s travails is mesmerizing, and the ending is wonderful. “The invention of wings” in the title alludes to an African fairy tale that Hetty’s mother tells her, and that she weaves into a beautiful story quilt she sews for her daughter to chronicle their family’s history so it is not lost in the mire of slavery.  Sue Monk Kidd deftly handles what could possibly become a clunky metaphor so that we too feel that both Hetty and Sarah have invented wings to fly and soar into history.

Highly recommended book. You can purchase a copy through Amazon by clicking the picture of the book or the link at the top of the page. I earn a small commission on the sale, but it does not affect your price. I borrowed my copy from the public library.

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