Book Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
by Sue Monk Kidd
Viking, Penguin Canada, 2014
I almost didn’t read this book. I wouldn’t have, but a friend whose opinion I trust encouraged me to do so. I am grateful to that friend, for this is a worthy read.
The Invention of Wings is Sue Monk Kidd’s fictional version of the real lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, two daughters of a wealthy landowner in 19th Century Charleston.
As young children they rebelled against the cruelty of slavery and the restrictions of their church. As adults they lead an infamous charge to abolish slavery, strive for racial equality and promote women’s rights.
The Invention of Wings is also the story of Handful “Hetty” Grimké, a fictional African-American slave “gifted” to Sarah Grimké on her eleventh birthday.
Monk Kidd alternates between the first-person accounts of Sarah and Handful, and these two perspectives allow the reader a broad view of Charleston life at that time. The two girls inhabit the same world but in two very different ways, and both women are trapped but in different ways. Sarah is trapped in her restricted female role by inflexible societal norms; Handful is trapped in her slave role by poverty, cruelty and oppression. From an early age Handful senses the intractable barrier between her and her white mistress, but the privileged Sarah takes longer to perceive their great divide. Later in life, Handful tells Sarah: “My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.”
One of Monk Kidd’s most intriguing characters is Handful’s mother, Charlotte. She lives with the cruelty of slavery that breeds what Monk Kidd calls the “cold fire of hate.” Even though her name is in the landowner’s inventory book as part of the “goods and chattel,”—“right after the water trough, the wheelbarrow, the claw hammer and the bushel of flint corn,” Charlotte tells her daughter: “Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth.” Her strength plants the seed of resilience in Handful, who grows up believing that her body might be “goods and chattel,” but not her mind. “I have one mind for the master to see. I have another mind for what I know is me,” she says.
Monk Kidd navigates all the complexities of the world at that time; nothing is straightforward, and nothing is easy in the face of overwhelming societal and economic pressures. Sarah vows to “put feet to her words” and take action to abolish slavery, but in so doing, she sacrifices family connections, friendships and love. Sarah rejects slavery and moves north to join the Quaker movement to abolish slavery. She then discovers that the Quakers might want to abolish slavery, but they still want racial segregation. Even the abolutionists she and Angelina work with urge her to ease off on her feminist cause. She tells them, “Now sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks.”
I almost didn’t read this book because Sue Monk Kidd’s previous two books, while beautifully written, did not stir my soul. I wouldn’t have read this book, but a friend whose opinion I trust encouraged me to do so.
I am grateful to that friend, for this is a worthy read.
Posted on May 28, 2014, in Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I borrowed, Books to read again and again, Fiction, Historical Fiction, History, Penguin Group, Uncategorized and tagged abolution, Angelina Grimke, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, Sarah Grimke, slavery, Sue Monk Kidd. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.