I think we all tend to think that the fight for civil rights and women’s rights began in the 1960s. Or at best, the suffrage movement was the first time that women fought for justice. I suspect that there were very few brave enough to stand up for women’s right prior to the early 1920s, so it is really interesting to be introduced to equal rights advocates who lived in the early 1800s!
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd is the real-life story (told in novel form) of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina, who were loved and loathed alike around the 1830s. The Grimkes grew up in the south, daughters of wealthy slave owners in Charleston, South Carolina.
In Kidd’s novel, Sarah, the star of the show, is given the gift of a young slave of her very own for her 11th birthday – something she clearly doesn’t want and is extraordinarily uncomfortable having. But her parents force her to accept the gift and refuse to allow her to free the young slave girl, known as Hetty to her white owners but as Handful to her mother and her fellow slaves.
Kidd’s novel is written in a back-and-forth style – one chapter is life as seen by Sarah Grimke, the next is life as seen by the fictional slave girl Hetty. Through their accounts, we become acquainted with the Grimke family as well as Hetty’s strong-willed mother, Charlotte. Charlotte is determined to become a free woman, and extracts a promise early on from Sarah to make sure Hetty is free one day.
Sarah does what she can, within the boundaries of the society in which she lives. For example, she secretly teaches Hetty to read despite the fact that it is against the law to do so, and Hetty is punished when Sarah’s parents become aware that Hetty can read.
Kidd takes her characters through decades of their lives. Both Hetty and Sarah are met with happiness and great sadness as they age. Despite the fact that Hetty is a fictional character, Kidd gives her such a distinct personality that you feel as though you experience her difficult life right along side of her.
The novel gives a wonderful picture of a horrible time in our nation’s history, and does it in a way that makes us happy to know the characters involved. Well, at least the main characters, as Sarah’s parents (particularly her mother) and siblings are despicable. Their treatment of the slaves made me cringe. Unfortunately, as the world changed around them, Sarah’s mother and, in particular, a sister , really never did see the evils of slavery.
I can’t recommend this novel more. It deserves all of the accolades it received this past year. It isn’t the easiest novel to read as the subject matter is disturbing, but Kidd’s writing and her development of this extraordinary pair of women makes it all worthwhile.
As an aside, and having nothing to do with Kidd’s writing, I was able to obtain a electronic version of the book that didn’t have Oprah’s comments. As I prepare this review, I don’t think that is possible any longer. I think if you choose to read this book electronically, you will have to put up with her comments whether you want to or not. I find that unbelievably annoying and the fact that she thinks we all want to read her comments extraordinarily arrogant. But I’m just a crab. I don’t know if others feel the same.
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