"The story follows Hetty "Handful" Grimke, a Charleston slave, and Sarah, the daughter of the wealthy Grimke family. The novel begins on Sarah's eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership over Handful, who is to be her handmaid. "The Invention of Wings" follows the next thirty-five years of their lives. Inspired in part by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke (a feminist, suffragist and, importantly, an abolitionist), Kidd allows herself to go beyond the record to flesh out the inner lives of all the characters, both real and imagined"--
This story takes place in the early 1800's in the deep South. It is the story of two girls, who although come from very different back grounds are both consumed with one common goal - freedom. For Sarah, who is a wealthy & powerful plantation owner's daughter, she seeks freedom from the suffocating discrimination of women that was common prior to the Women's Right's Movement. Women were expected to be the weaker sex, whose only desire should be to be a good wife and mother. Sarah, being the ambitious girl that she was, had much bigger dreams for herself. Dreams she struggled to grasp due to her gender. Hetty on the other hand, was raised as a slave, and dreamt of the freedom to sew like her mother and of being free from the bonds of slavery.
The girls come together on Sarah's 11th birthday when Sarah receives Hetty as a "gift" of sorts, to be her personal maid. Sarah adamantly refuses, but is forced to accept Hetty as her maid. This story spans a 35 year period in the lives of both girls and follows both their fight toward a common goal
The Invention of Wings is beautifully written, with characters that will burn into your memory, where they will remain. It is a often heart-breaking tale, that puts the horrors of slavery in our face where we see the in-humane treatment that the slaves suffered at the hands of their "owners" and society as a whole. There were times when getting though certain sections of the book made me sick to my stomach and brought tears to my eyes. When an author can bring that kind of raw emotion to the reader with her words, you know that this is a master of their craft.
I have to say that The Invention of Wings has gained a spot in my top 20 list of all the books I have ever read. Right along with The Secret Life of Bees. You can count on Sue Monk Kidd to provide an emotional roller-coaster of a story that will have you glued to your chair until the very last page. You can bet that I will recommend it to everyone in search of a book that they will never forget!
When Sarah is 11 - Handful was given to her as her personal slave. As a defiant act she frees Handful using the law books in her father's library. But, her father tears up the decree and it is the first time she begins to understand that she too is a slave in a different way.
Kidd follows the lives of these two women alternating chapters between their voices. Handful weaves the history of her mauma and the slave uprising in Charleston. Sarah weaves her way through the social seasons with only one marriage possibility and he mother breathing down her neck.
And then Sarah accompanies her father to the north for his health. It is there that she first hears about Quakers and begins the path to becoming one of the most renowned Abolitionists. And while on this path - she is able to help Handful on her own path.
This is an amazing book. A book built on the real Sarah Grimke's life. Monk does a tremendous job of weaving reality and fiction together to build a story that makes me want to know more about the real Sarah Grimke'. That is a gift!
‘Wings’ demonstrates how personal beliefs, biases, and traditions are imprinted on people by their family, friends and surroundings. It also illustrates how individuals can and do make choices to change live their lives so they can live in alignment with their own beliefs. The pictures that the author paints of slave vs. land owners living conditions, cultural celebrations and traditions creates a rich tapestry of history for the reader. This was one of those books that I didn’t want to end. I give it a 5 star review
The author must be applauded for not forcing a “best friends forever” relationship on the two girls. Considering their circumstances, that would have been unbelievable. Handful explains, “I didn’t know for sure whether Miss Sarah’s feelings came from love or guilt. I don’t know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It was never a simple thing” (54). As the novel’s title clearly suggests, what the two have in common is a desire for freedom. Obviously, Handful wants to be a free woman. Sarah, on the other hand, wants to be free of the constraints imposed on her by society; she wants to have a profession and to be able to speak her mind; Sarah describes herself as being “afflicted with the worst female curse on earth, the need to mold myself to expectations” (144). Over and over again, her aspirations are “laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment” (88). Handful describes the role of a slave: “A slave was supposed to be like the Holy Ghost – don’t see it, don’t hear it, but it’s always hovering round on ready” (6). In many ways that is the way Sarah and all women of her class are expected to behave: to be quiet and subservient, hovering in the background until summoned by the men. Handful realizes that Sarah is as trapped as she is: “She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of people around her, not by the law. . . . I tried to tell her that. I said, ‘My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round’” (200 – 201).
Handful and Sarah are also similar in their character traits. Sarah describes her sister as having “a lively intellect and [showing] signs of being quite fearless” (88), but the same description could be given to both her and Handful. Perhaps the trait that most stands out is their determination. Handful risks severe punishment by engaging in acts of rebellion. When faced with such punishment, she responds by telling her “backside to brace up” (7). For Handful, blackbird wings, which she adopts from her mother’s stories and incorporates into her quilts, serve as a symbol for her desire for freedom. Her mantra becomes “’We gonna leave here or die trying’” (337). Sarah is equally defiant, rebelling against her parents and society even in the face of widespread approbation. Her speech impediment, a fitting symbol of her being silenced, does not stop her from expressing her beliefs: “I told myself the affliction in my voice wouldn’t stop me, it would compel me. It would make me strong, for I would have to be strong” (20). Sarah uses a sterling button, which she begins to wear prominently, to remind her of all her hopes and dreams. Her mantra is “If you must err, do so on the side of audacity” (8).
Of the two stories, it is Handful’s that is stronger, and it is for perhaps this reason that she has the first and last chapters. Perhaps Sarah’s story is less compelling because she is not usually in physical danger whereas Handful’s life is in imminent danger several times. Sarah says that, “Being an abolitionist could get you attacked right on the streets – heckled, flogged, stoned, killed” (305 – 306), but her safety doesn’t seem to be seriously threatened. She faces expulsion from a church and a city, and has a lot to lose in terms of social status, but she has money. At one point, Sarah realizes that her broken heart after a rejection is “merely unfortunate” when compared to a slave’s being apprehended by guards, a truly “tragic” event (141). That is perhaps the situation throughout; Sarah’s situation is much less dire than Handful’s. Handful endures loss and sorrow on several levels whereas Sarah experiences, according to the flyleaf, “crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism.” Of course, I do not mean to dismiss emotional suffering or to diminish what Sarah Grimké accomplished; I can only admire what she achieved and stand in awe of her courage in standing up to men: “’Now, sirs, kindly take your feet off our necks” (334).
Despite her stronger story, it is not Handful who is the most memorable character but Charlotte, Handful’s mother. Handful learns to be shrewd, tough, and defiant from her mother whose understanding of the world “came from living on the scarce side of mercy” (3). It is Charlotte who instills the desire for freedom in her daughter by telling her that her shoulder blades are the remnants of wings which will one day grow back. Sarah recognizes Charlotte’s keen intellect: “Of all the slaves Father owned, she struck me as the most intelligent, and perhaps the most dangerous” (30). She is dangerous because she instills a pride in her daughter, telling her, “’I is a ‘markable woman, and you is a ‘markable girl, and we ain’t never gon bow and scrape’” (76) and “’Ain’t nobody can write down in a book what you worth’” (112). Charlotte wants to be remembered not as a slave but as someone who belonged “’to nobody but herself’” (304).
The use of two women from totally different backgrounds emphasizes that the lives of both slaves and wealthy white women were affected by “the peculiar institution” (144). Both the story based on a real person and that based on a fictional character can remind us that we all need to take wing.
In many ways, it parallels The Help, but in an earlier setting.
My thoughts: As soon as I heard Sue Monk Kidd's new novel was based on the life of Sarah Grimke, I was eager to read it. I've long been fascinated by Grimke and wrote papers on her in college (yes, I took the time to find and re-read those papers after I finished this novel.) When Oprah chose it for her book club, I was thrilled. I hope this novel brings the life and work of Sarah Grimke to more people.
Because of my familiarity with Grimke, I initially found the novel's pace a bit slow. I appreciated the insight into her childhood, but I was eager for the action to move along to where I knew it was going. As is common in novels about slavery, I read with frustration. In this sense, I most enjoyed the earlier chapters from Handful's point of view, as her story was new to me, and the complicated relationship between Sarah and Handful was poignantly shown from both sides.
Sue Monk Kidd captures Charleston and the time period beautifully. I was transported to the time and place of the novel as I read. Kidd assumes little from her reader, which makes this novel accessible. It can easily serve as introduction to this time period and its cast of characters.
Favorite passage: "I knew myself to be an odd girl with my mutinous ideas, ravenous intellect, and funny looks, and half the time I sputtered like a horse straining at its bit, qualities in the female sex that were not endearing. I was on my way to being the family pariah, and I feared the ostracism. I feared it most of all."
The verdict: For readers less familiar with Sarah Grimke, I imagine the novel will fascinate and delight throughout. For me, however, I yearned for time to pass more quickly until Sarah reached adulthood. Still, the life of Sarah Grimke is inspiring and fascinating, and Kidd captures both in this novel.
With that first line, and having so much liked the author's The Secret Life of Bees, I thought I was sure to love this novel. Initially, I was a little disappointed. The writing is beautiful, as I expected, but the story didn't grab me, didn't set itself apart from other stories I've read about slavery in the United States.
Fortunately, that slight disappointment didn't last long. I quickly cared about the characters, and wanted to know more. One of my initial responses was that people could not be as strong and defiant as some of the characters were, but I changed my reaction as the story went on. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The author's notes at the end of the book were wonderful, and made the story I'd just read all the more meaningful. If you read the book, don't skip those notes, but do wait until the end of the book to read them because they contain spoilers.
This book is a choice for Oprah's 2.0 book club, which means many people will read it just because it was chosen by her, and many people will avoid it for the same reason. I've read quite a few of the books she has recommended, and have loved some of them and not cared for others. If the subject interests you in the least, give this book a try. I'm certainly glad I did.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Sarah was the daughter of a plantation owner, and Handful was her maid. Both were strong women regardless of their station in life.
Sarah didn't want to have a maid, and Handful didn't want to be a maid. She wanted to sew just like her mother did. She wanted to be a seamstress, but in reality, she wanted to be free. Charlotte, Handful's mother, made all the clothes for the household including the slaves. She was a bit of of a handful herself.
Through the beautiful storytelling of Ms. Kidd, you will follow the Grimke family through the decades of life on the plantation. You will meet Missus who was the wife of the plantation owner and who was in charge of of the slaves. She was very cruel.
The main characters, Sarah, Handful, Charlotte, and Missus will keep you up late reading about the day's activities either covert or in plain sight and either cruel or humane. These characters and their bond as well as their differences will be pulling at your heartstrings.
Historical Fiction at its best will be yours when you pick up THE INVENTION OF WINGS. There is a lot of profound thinking and pondering in every paragraph. I wasn't aware of Sarah's role in the abolitionist movement, and was pleasantly surprised to find information about her and her sister, Angeline, as I did some research of my own.
The storyline of THE INVENTION OF WINGS flows easily and masterfully as Ms. Kidd brings to life Southern living, the horrors of slavery, and tells of the people who worked toward abolishing slavery.
Don't miss this well-written, researched book of Ms. Kidd. Ms. Kidd’s notes at the end of the book were very helpful as she explained how she took the basis of history and fictionalized key parts of it for her book. THE INVENTION OF WINGS was incredible. 5/5
This book was given to me free of charge by the publisher in return for an honest review.
The Invention of Wings is historical Southern fiction and ,when you begin to read it, you won’t be many pages in before you understand completely why it’s the newly resurrected Oprah’s Book Club’s first pick for 2014. I’m thrilled the publisher has provided a copy for us to use in a giveaway for someone to win!
But, if you stick with it, this really is a good book. While it continues to be told alternately by the one sister (a historical figure) and the slave (pure fiction but imagined from an actual slave who was given to the sister and died soon after), this part is based on fact. Also, many of the other characters in the second half really did exist.
The author, Sue Monk Kidd, wrote an interesting Afterward in which she explains what is fact and what is fiction. So don't just stop when you finish the story; read this Afterward. The story will mean more to you if you do. And you will know which reviewers read it and which skipped it. For example, many will say that the story of Handful, the slave, was based on an actual person. Not true says Kidd.
I won this book from goodreads.com.
As a child, Sarah was smart and loved to read, and wanted to matter, but her family insisted she fill “accepted” female roles. Rather than being allowed to study law, philosophy, history, and humanities, she was made to learn needlework, manners, drawing, and piano. Hetty, meanwhile, had much more at stake in her quest for freedom, but both girls suffered from a thwarted desire to be free - one in body, and one in mind, and they become friends. Still, for a long time Sarah just didn’t “get it” about what it meant actually to be a slave.
Even towards the end of the story, when Sarah is an abolitionist, she is not convinced that the theoretical chains put on woman aren’t as bad as the actual chains put on slaves.
Discussion: I liked both stories, but I found the chronicle of the slave characters more dramatic and compelling in many ways. Hetty, her mother Charlotte, and her sister Sky are people so courageous, optimistic, and admirable, you can’t help (in my opinion) preferring them to the wishy-washy Sarah, who, until very late in life, capitulates, equivocates, or compromises rather than fight. This is not to say I would have not done the same, or have shown the “audacity” she finally summoned later in life (her slogan was always “If you must err, do so on the side of audacity”). But the characters I will remember are the free and enslaved blacks in Charleston and Philadelphia, who risked everything, and endured the unendurable, so that one day - in this world or the next, they could fly like blackbirds to a better place.
Evaluation: At the very end of the Author’s Note explaining the historical aspects of this book (and a list of further resources), the author reveals:
"In writing The Invention of Wings, I was inspired by the words of Professor Julius Lester, which I kept propped on my disk: ‘History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.’”
I don’t think I could come up with a better way to summarize my reaction to this book.
Kidd’s retelling of the Grimke sisters and their fight for equality for women and the abolition of slavery is told with sympathy and fact. Although much of the story is fiction, Kidd manages to remain true to the real life story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke in the days and decades before the Civil War. A number of “big names” appear in the sisters’ ongoing struggle to be heard in a male dominated South and respected in a male dominated North.
The tale loses momentum in the middle, possibly because the sisters’ actual lives also stalled in their middle years. The addition of the totally fictional characters of Charlotte and Hetty carry the story well, giving the slave side of Southern life. The horrors of slavery are graphically depicted.
I can recommend this book without reservation for anyone interested in Southern life, abolition, women’s rights, and the life style and treatment of women in antebellum Charleston, South Carolina. Also interesting is the role of the church (in many permutations) in the condoning of slavery and the treatment of women.
5 of 5 stars