Finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I received a copy from the publisher on Netgalley.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women
Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.”
I absolutely adored this book. I had heard of Sarah Grimke, but didn’t know much about her life (besides the fact that she and her younger sister were abolitionists and early feminists). Handful/Hetty is a product of the author’s imagination. I was excited to read this because I’m a huge fan of The Secret Life of Bees. This book ended up being much, much better.
I read this book at the same time I saw 12 Years a Slave, so it was an interesting companion to that. It also raises the question of who should be the storyteller for something like slavery. Like The Help, this is written by a white woman and features a white woman as one of the two narrators (the other, of course, is a slave). With 12 Years a Slave, the main character (and director) are both African Americans. I know there’s some controversy surrounding The Help because it was a white woman essentially writing from a black perspective and the fact that it’s a white woman basically “co-opting” that experience. For me, though (and this is a white person’s perspective, so take it with some salt), I feel like we have a certain amount of privilege and it’s not a bad thing to use that privilege to bring things like this to light. Also, there’s the fact that there are people who might feel more comfortable reading this book because it’s written by a white person. (Those people don’t deserve to be coddled, but if it can get them to see things from a different perspective, I guess I’m all for that.)
Anyway—if you’re still reading this—I loved Sarah and her sister Angelina. I love how they tried to do the right thing and how Sarah did feel incredibly guilty at the thought of slavery and how it made her life more comfortable. And I love how, when she could, she renounced it all and moved north (as did her sister, later).
But I also loved Handful. And I wish she could have gotten an entire novel to tell her own story. My feelings about Sarah were complicated (most of her decisions may have relieved her own guilt but also served to make Handful’s life much harder and much worse).
This book absolutely should be a book club selection. There’s a lot to discuss here and I think this would be one of the best conversations ever.
Highly, highly recommended.