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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.
by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
“In a life of wholeness, a life of godly perfection, we will still confront the death, grief, and pain that are part of human reality, but they will not destroy us. A life of wholeness can accept, even embrace, death, grief, and pain.”
—from Made for Goodness
I’ll start with this: Why would you not read a book written by Desmond Tutu? Take every opportunity to read his words.
I’ll follow with this: Do you want to find a way to face bitterness without being consumed by it? Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, help us find the way.
Archbishop Tutu has witnessed many horrors and acts of hatred in his time. His daughter has worked with rape survivors and AIDS patients. They do not walk through this life blind to the “not good” in the world. They don’t try to whitewash it or pretend its non-existence. They do encourage us to gather up the horror and transform it into beauty. They do urge us to see the perpetrators as whole people with hopes, loves, tears, and inherent goodness, just like us, who act out of hurt and anger. They do encourage us to use our free will to choose our own inherent goodness over hurt and anger.
“We have the freedom to choose right. But that would be meaningless if there were not also the possibility that we could choose wrong.”
We wouldn’t like to have no choice, would we? The wholeness of existence gives us options and free will. We choose to feed our hurt and anger and spread the cycle of hurt to others, or we choose compassion and spread that around instead. Before we can do that, though, we have to know it’s there.
“. . . we can see ourselves as we truly are—not sinners in need of saving but saints in need of seeing.”
According to the Tutus, when we actively look for the good in ourselves and others—really ferret around for it, dig deeply—it lays the foundation for compassion acts. Doing good then becomes a habit, learned and fostered. Sure, there will be setbacks and other people will hurt us, but in the fullness of time, one good deed after another, habitual good creates more habitual good.
The Tutus are people of faith, and this is a God-centred book. Faith is not a requirement for goodness, and people who choose goodness but not faith might have to work to find a comfort level with the content. I hope their free will allows them to choose to do the work, because there is much good to be found here.
“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Here is what I’m reading over the holidays:
Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work by Eric C. Sinoway with Merrill Meadow
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
A World Elsewhere by Wayne Johnston
May this season be filled with lots of books!
by Gillian Flynn
Crown Publishers, 2012
We hear the husband’s side of the story first. Nick Dunne, out-of-work writer, spends his newfound leisure hours writing the story of his wife’s disappearance.
Then we hear from his wife. Amy Elliott Dunne, out-of-work writer, spends her newfound leisure hours telling her version of events, first in a diary and then in a tell-all truth spilling.
Flynn alternates between the voices of Nick and Amy to unfold her elaborately plotted story of Amy’s disappearance. Or, so it seems, anyway. It’s a sign of the intricate plotting of this book that, even after you’ve finished it, you’re not absolutely certain whose version of events you have read. It’s a sign of the intricate plotting of this book that, even after you’ve finished it, you’re not certain what is “truth” or “fiction” in the telling. It’s a book that leaves you pondering delicious possibilities. You will find yourself turning back pages to see how Flynn managed to pull something off. You will want to re-read it to see how she did it.
Flynn creates skillful mental images of her characters, making it easy to picture them and their surroundings. Nick, for example, “should cough out yellow Tweety Bird feathers when he smiles.” His twin sister, Margo, has the “face of a ’30s screwball-move queen” who would prompt a man from that period to “tilt back his fedora, whistle at the sight of her, and say, ‘Now, there’s a helluva broad!'”
Flynn adopts the nickname “Go” for Nick’s twin sister, and I never could settle into that name. I repeatedly mistook it for the verb. Other than that, this is an engaging book, well worth the read. When you’ve finished it, let me know what possibilities you ponder.