The Invention of Wings is the latest novel by Sue Monk Kidd. It is a selection of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 (and also my book club!). Kidd has taken the real life Grimke sisters and turned their story into an engrossing novel.
In the early 19th Century, the Grimke’s were a leading family in Charleston, South Carolina. Although they lived in the city, the family owned a cotton plantation and, of course, their fortune was built on the backs of slave labor. On her 11th birthday, Sarah is given Hetty as a gift. Hetty is a ten year old slave in the household, the daughter of Charlotte, the family’s skilled seamstress. Already an abolitionist at heart, Sarah attempts to free Hetty (whose mother has named her Handful). When Sarah wakes, she finds the manumission document she has signed torn in two and left at her bedroom door.
This narrative interweaves the stories of Sarah and Handful. Sarah sees them as friends, but Handful knows that she can never be Sarah’s friend, as they are not equal. It is Handful’s life-long desire for freedom. Although it is Sarah’s desire to free Handful, it takes her many years before she is able to help make that happen.
As a woman, Sarah is expected to marry well. She is intelligent, but plain, and the eligible suitors are not clamoring for her. She is constantly at odds with her stern mother, whom the household slaves also fear and despise. Sarah’s only joy is caring for her youngest sister, Angelina.
Eventually, Sarah find her way out of the stultifying Charleston life, and makes her mark on the world as a renowned abolitionist and feminist.
This book is complex and very, very good. It is not fun or quick, but it tells an important story.
Published in hardcover-Viking-2014