Ethereal Reader: The Invention of Wings

searchI 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.

Buy The Invention of Wings from Amazon here.

Buy The Invention of Wings from Barnes and Noble here.

Buy The Invention of Wings from Tattered Cover here.

Buy The Invention of Wings from Changing Hands here.






8 thoughts on “Ethereal Reader: The Invention of Wings

  1. Yay, I’ve been waiting to talk about this book. More to follow from me this weekend. I did end up with the e-read with Oprah’s notes. After the first several chapters she makes very few comments. FYI.

  2. Because I read Southern themes or authors frequently, I had read this early in the year. Like you, I thought it was excellent. I also read Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees and enjoyed it. I couldn’t muster any interest in The Mermaid’s Chair.

  3. As soon as I started this book, I was hooked. From the topic to the writing style, it is just the type of book to which I am drawn.

    I liked Sarah and knowing she was not fictional made me like her even more. She was such a good person and was able to follow her conscious even though she struggled so much with the stutter and what definitely sounded to me like depression. It was amazing that without any guidance and with much opposition, she was able to develop into the person who found that pursuing a purpose or a cause was more rewarding than pursuing love and something safe.

    At the beginning of the book she sounded like one of those children who are never really children at heart, but are more like small adults, constantly aware of issues that are generally not given much thought by children. The fact that she was able to understand how wrong slavery was and was so disturbed by her family’s treatment of their slaves despite having everyone in her family behave otherwise, shows how far beyond her years she was.

    I find it so hard to understand the thought processes of the white man at that time who thought that they were somehow so superior to other races and to women.

    I did like the way the book was written and the way the relationship between Sarah and Handful was presented. I probably would have liked the book even more had there been a little more of their time together.

    Overall, I just enjoyed reading each part of the book from the relationship Sarah had with that slimy creep….can’t remember his name… the way Charlotte kept her story alive through her quilt squares, to Charlotte’s return with Sky and finally Handful’s and Sky’s clever escape.

    I have been so busy lately that I have not made much time to read. I am so glad I took the time to read this book.

  4. I also really enjoyed this book. When I was reading it, I didn’t realize that the Grimkes were actual historical figures; once I learned that, I liked the book even more.

    I found the writing to be so good, and the story was compelling. I’m sometimes put off by multiple voices, but in this case, it worked really well. It was interesting to see incidents or time periods from the two very different points of view. Both Sarah and Handful were strong women, but their positions in life required them to be strong in different ways. Both were trapped in a terrible social institution. While Sarah obviously had more freedom to escape, it wasn’t easy for her to do that. She had to make a choice between her family and her integrity. No matter how wrong you think your mother’s thinking is, she’s still your mother!

    I was so happy with the ending. I’m glad that Sarah found some peace and felt that her life had meaning. And, again, the fact that it was based on a true story made it even better.

    I loved the quilt motif. Society gave Charlotte no power–she wasn’t even allowed to learn to read–but she used the quilt to remember and tell her story. She used her talent and will-power to create something important to herself and her child.

    Like Andrea, whenever I read a book about slavery–or the Holocaust, or Rwanda–I wonder how people convince themselves that it’s all right to oppress another group of people. More than that, I wonder why so often it has to be in the cruelest of ways.

    I would recommend The Invention of Wings to anyone.

  5. I loved this book very much and have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts. I loved the story, the real historical person of Sarah interwoven with the fictional characters the author created from the real Grimke slaves. I have to say after finishing the book what I loved most was the way Kidd put words to this story. I found her writing to be captivating.
    Wasn’t it amazing that although Sarah truly loved Isaac she knew if she married him she would give up much of the little freedom she had?
    And Charlotte’s independent spirit manifested in the few ways she could, including her limp when convenient. I thought the author did a great job showing the strong human will for quality of life in horrendous living conditions especially with the character of Charlotte. I loved the character of Handful and the family type relationships the slaves had with each other. Sarah and Angelina’s relationship was interesting and I believe that was supported by historical fact.
    I too would recommend this book but find it interesting that I also loved The Secret Life of Bees but as Kak mentioned, started and did not finish The Mermaid’s Chair.

  6. Oh how I wish we could be together drinking a glass of wine (or a margarita) as we discuss the beauty, the significance, and sometimes the horror of this novel. I have read all three of Kidd’s books now (Mermaid Chair was just a good love story). This book has everything in it I love about books – passion, strong women who develop powerful relationships, friendship and history.

    I am a little embarrassed to say that when i started this book, I didn’t realize this was about the real life Grimke sisters. I am embarrassed because I used to teach Social Studies and (as in any school system) we discuss the women’s movement, but not in great detail. I, of course, have read a little about these sisters and it took me until about 1/3 of the way through the book what this story was really about. I love how Kidd took what little she could find about the sisters (thanks to the good throw away ability of the South Carolina government) and was able to weave in fact with fiction. She created a story all could jump into…and left me wanting more!

    I agree with all of the comments already posted about the story, the strength of the women, the confusion over slavery…One of the things that captured me, which directly reflects the times, is the back seat the women’s movement took because if abolition and suffrage joined forces, both would lose. Sadly, that is quite factual. It was more important to the abolitionists to free the slaves than it was for women to have the right to vote. Although white women were “free” they were actually trapped in their status. They were slaves to their fathers, brothers and husbands. They were constrained by clothing, society, and tainted as the “fairer sex”. In some cases today, we still are. This is what lit a fire in me…how women then and still today remain slaves to the patriarchal nature of the world. I read a shocking statistic about sexual assaults in Delhi, India. It is just a reminder that while women have come a long way since the vote in 1920, there is still a long, long way to go.

    And now I wonder if I am the Debbie Downer of the group…too far??? hahaha


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