Sure do love writing about poignant things here, things that move me. Stuff that really matters. Also love reading. (You too?) Reading takes me to another place. Away from here. Ha. (Not that it’s all that bad here.) But to me, an excellent book is like a mini-vacation.
A quiet vacation for just one person: me!
Today we’re talking about The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Not necessarily just a chick book, fyi, though the main characters are women. (I posted a reading list this past summer, books I love. Check it out here.)
A few housekeeping things before chatting about The Invention of Wings. This week marks the one year anniversary of this blog. Wow, it’s been quite a year. And a quick moment to say thanks for joining me on the journey. You didn’t know what to expect. Truthfully I didn’t know myself. At times I felt almost pulled along by a rip tide… compelled to write the next piece. Thanks for being great readers, even commenting. Being supportive all around. Also a huge thank you to my precious family (mostly Jon) who take on many extra home/family responsibilities so I can write here. What a gift, means the world to me.
I also love the flowers (veggies?) he sent to celebrate year one on Thursday. Totally made my day, my week.
(Welcome to the new faces this week, and here’s a little fyi: I post recipes during the week, muse on the weekends. Hope that suits your style.)
So on to The Invention of Wings…
“A searing and soaring story of two women bound together as mistress and slave.” –USA Today
What an amazing read. I’ve read several other books by Sue Monk Kidd and this is my favorite so far. Here’s the back cover intro:
“A triumphant story about the quest for freedom and empowerment, Sue Monk Kidd’s third novel presents the extraordinary journeys of two unforgettable women: Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, South Carolina, and Sarah, the Grimkes’ idealistic daughter.
Inspired in part by the historic figure of abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimke, Kidd’s novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful. The Invention of Wings follows these two women over the next thirty-five years as both strive for lives 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.”
So the book has four parts, covering 1803 – 1838, and the chapters alternate between the voice of plantation owner daughter Sarah and slave girl Handful. A couple overall impressions. First, disgust at the hypocrisy of the church of the day that openly supported the slavery system, all in the name of preserving the plantation way of life. Basically the almighty dollar. Reminded me of the German church during the World Wars that somehow supported the Nazi regime. The church is called to protect, not exploit and victimize. And second, horrified at the cruelty and apparently common punishment practices meted out to slaves. Horrible and heartbreaking both, a travesty. Truly evil…
Wish I’d read the “Author’s Note” at the back before reading the actual book. Nine full pages tying the novel to the actual history of the day. Because while it’s technically a novel, there was a great deal of research and historical facts woven throughout the book. Sue Monk Kidd did her homework, actually lives in Charleston. For a decade she unknowingly drove by the unmarked Grimke plantation home, not realizing it was the birthplace of the first female abolitionist agents and American feminist thinkers… the Grimke sisters.
In a nutshell, Sarah Grimke, the plantation owner’s daughter is opposed to slavery from a very young age. Not sure why. She’s born into the system, might’ve bought into it like so many did. The book follows her journey beginning with her public refusal of her birthday present (during her eleventh birthday party), the slave girl Handful. Yeah, she was given a person for her birthday. Then follows the journey as the two little girls begin an unlikely lifelong friendship. Both trapped, born into a society/culture not of their own choosing.
“Be careful: you can get enslaved twice. Once in your body and once in your mind.”
(Quote from an abolitionist leader of the day.)
Says slave Handful to Sarah :
“My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way around.”
Honestly, I could go on and on about this book. But I won’t, so no spoiler alert here. Really hope you’ll have opportunity to read it for yourself. An excellent read, you won’t be disappointed. I also had the pleasure of participating in a book discussion on The Invention of Wings a few weeks ago. If you’ve never participated in a book discussion, there’s something magical about a group discussion on a book that really moves you. The conversation ebbs and flows, a beautiful dance as different ones chime in with their impressions.
Some common echoes from the discussion:
- To whom much is given, much will be required.
- Concern about the rampant breakdown of the family and the ramifications we’re seeing in society. (Slave families were often split up among different plantations.)
- That all societies/cultures have blindspots. What are ours?
- If we don’t know history, we’re destined to repeat it.
- Those who go through great difficulty/pain, naturally earn the right to be heard, often having the greatest impact on societal change.
- Those who courageously speak out against injustice don’t generally win popularity contests, are often considered a threat by society. (As adults, the Grimke sisters were banned from Charleston, their hometown.)
So much more to say. I was impressed that the Grimke sisters were not only abolitionists, but some of the first to fight for equal rights for slaves, not just freedom for slaves. Also first to speak up for equal rights for women, especially on the issue of voting.
Says author Sue Monk Kidd: “They shook, bent, and finally broke the gender barrier that denied American women a voice and platform in the political and social spheres.”
The Grimke sisters also taught many children of the leading abolitionists and came in contact with many reformers/intellectuals of the day: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau to name a few.
More to say, but dishes, laundry and toilet scrubbing call. 😉 (You know the beat.)
Read this book? Thoughts? Gotta book recommendation for me? Have a wonderful weekend, friends!
Speaking of wings…you may also like: Wax Up Your Wings