Friday, 23 May 2014

The Invention of Wings


Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Genre: Historical Fiction (US Slavery)
Type: Kindle e-book (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group - Viking
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "There was a time in Africa the people could fly."

Book Description from GoodReadsHetty "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.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group - Viking for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Slavery and the beginning of women's rights are a couple of weighty and emotional topics for one book to take on.  The Invention of Wings has a lot to prove as it juggles these two issues, but ultimately it's a story about the friendship between a young white, privileged girl named Sarah Grimke and Hetty 'Handful', a black slave on the Grimke plantation.

The relationship between these two girls is the heart of the book as they each take turns to narrate their stories of struggle to gain freedom.  One for her physical freedom and the other for her freedom from social and ethical constraints put upon her.  I liked the fact that Handful and Sarah's relationship isn't an easy road and felt believable.  It's not cut and dry or could ever be overly friendly for the time and atmosphere in which they lived.  It was interesting to see how Sarah comes to understand the truth about slavery and how her views morph into something so much bigger than she could ever imagine.  Admittedly, it wasn't a smooth road for Sarah and some of her motivations, influences and understandings as a young girl/young woman weren't always comfortable for me but I liked that they always feel authentic to the character and era.

There was a lot of research done for this book (since it loosely follows the lives of the real-life Grimke sisters).  It is full of historical detail but I think that sometimes this historical information came at the cost of the character development and pace of the book.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed learning about some of the women who shaped how the world viewed women's rights and abolition.  But there were a couple of times when it felt like the reader was stuck in a specific moment in Sarah's life instead of moving the storyline on.  Surprisingly, this feeling was the strongest for me when Sarah decides to get involved with Women's Rights and abolition wholeheartedly. 

Maybe this disconnect with Sarah stems from the fact that I never felt like I got to know her.  There are some emotional scenes in the book, not surprisingly with Handful's storyline, but the emotion surrounding Sarah was quite lacking. What I did enjoy was seeing how similar Sarah and Handful were regarding their lack of freedom and the feeling of being trapped and stuck in their lives by the decision of others. 

"She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of the people round her, not by the law." ~ Handful

And yet, even though they both feel trapped there's still that fire inside each of them that struggles to maintain who they really are even in the face of opposition from so many others around them. 

Overall, I enjoyed this fictionalized story based on the real life of a woman who was instrumental in the beginning of the Feminist and Abolition movements.  It was an inspiring read that shows the inner strength of two women fighting the same fight, each in her own way.    

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Favourite Quotes:
"If you must err, do so on the side of audacity."

"I 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 centre of all unspeakable things and I had found my way into it."

"I have one mind for the master to see.  I have another mind for what I know is me."

1 comment:

shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

I'm looking forward to reading this! Thanks for sharing your review.

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