I was given the opportunity to read Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction The Invention of Wings (released 1/7/14). Sue Monk Kidd is author of The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair and Traveling with Pomegranates.
The story follows the lives of Sarah, Angelina, Charlotte and Handful during the time frame of 1803-1838, and the struggles they encounter and the choices that they must make. Many of the situations that these strong women encounter are disturbing but because of what they endure, the reader knows that the women of the future will have an easier time of it. The novel is based on the Grimke sisters Sarah and Angelina from Charleston, South Carolina. These two women were the first female abolition agents and were among the earliest major American feminist thinkers.
The story follows the life of Sarah, her slave, Handful (otherwise known as Hetty), and Handful’s mother, Charlotte, who is the seamstress to the Grimke family. The story is told from Sarah and Handful’s perspective. Sarah’s family has always had slaves and the description of how they disciplined those slaves is a disturbing aspect of the story. After a young Sarah witnesses one of the slaves punishments, she is so tormented by it that she develops a lifelong stutter.
Sarah’s father, a successful lawyer, allows all his children to read the books in his library, expecting his sons to follow in his footsteps. When Sarah shows an interest, she is banned from the library forever because of his belief that women should not be allowed an education. Sarah is given her own slave Handful at age eleven, much to her dismay. Sarah treats Handful as an equal – even teaching her how to read. When this is discovered it earns Handful a painful punishment. Charlotte, Handful’s mother, makes Sarah promise that one day she will give Handful her freedom. This haunts Sarah her entire life on how she can possibly accomplish this.
Sarah does not get along with her own mother because of her mother’s beliefs, including harsh punishments of her slaves and the lack of motherly love to her many children. When Sarah’s younger sister Angelina is born, Sarah takes it upon herself to mother her and instills many of her own beliefs into her sister and in turn creating an ally.
The Invention of Wings is already receiving notice, being the recent Oprah Book Club 2.0 book pick. This newest novel from Kidd seems well on its way to being very successful. I see a great future for this book and I feel it would be a wonderful book choice for those looking for a moving work of historical fiction.