Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd ~ Book Review

It is 1800's Charleston and the Grimke family are an influential, upstanding & wealthy family.  The father is jurist and land owner and the family own many slaves to keep the property and their lives in the way of the socially elite of the time.  When young 11 year old Sarah is given a slave for a hand maid on her 11th birthday, she is appalled and tries to refuse but her mother who is harsh and all about appearances insists.   Not having any friends due to a speaking impediment she developed from trauma when she was 4, Sarah develops as much of a friendship with 10 year old Hetty as the culture allows.  In spite of her speech affliction, Sarah has a thirst for knowledge and desires, unlike her brother who feels forced into it, to be a lawyer like their father.   But as the times dictate this is no place for a woman and Sarah feels the limitations imposed upon her even as her heart is full of knowing she is called to do something big in this world.  As they grow together, they develop a complex relationship, each influencing the other's life and both Sarah and Hetty must learn how to survive in their opposing worlds and both do what they can to break through those limitations that society has imposed upon them.

This story follows the parallel lives of Sarah and Hetty as they try to find lives of their own dictated by their heart and not the society they were born into.  It is a novel that swept me into the world of the South at a time when owning slaves not only culturally acceptable but even looked upon as the Christian thing to do.  It is inspired by the real life Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who became the first women to publicly start speaking up for not only the abolitionist movement but also the women's movement.  Sarah's story is one of courage in the midst of huge pressure to conform, betrayal and then rejection.  For such a historical character that accomplished so much for the not only the abolitionists but also the women's movement it is odd that neither her or her sister's name is one that is well known in history books.  This story is well researched and really opens the readers eyes to the attitudes, justifications and culture of the time.  I always wondered how the South, which was so entrenched in church and what they called Christianity could justify the inhumane treatment and ownership of other human beings and this story was able to show that in all it's ugliness.  I also learned a lot through the characters of Hetty and her mother Charlotte who though born into slavery always had deep within the desire to be free and in control of their own life and strove to express it in whatever way they could even though the consequences would be dire if found out.  I thought the aspect of Charlotte, who was a seamstress in the Grimke household, would tell her life story through the stitching of a quilt.  Though the gift of reading and writing was kept from her, she still found a way to keep her personal history alive.  This was a wonderful read of the stories of two young girls born into opposing stations of life growing into strong women reaching for their own destinies as their lives intertwine.  The author did an excellent job of fleshing out historical people and relaying what might have been their experiences, heart and motivations.

As a last note I loved how the author ended the "Author's Notes" with this quote by Professor Julius Lester:

"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"

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd pg 369


Karen said...

I've been wanting to read this, and your review prompted me to go look for it on Amazon. I found a used hardbound copy for a little over a dollar. With shipping, it's about $5, so I ordered it!

Barbara Harper said...

This sounds compelling. Love that quote at the end.