I arrived to the party of Sue Monk Kidd a little late. I first discovered her work while watching an episode of The Oprah Show in 2010. Oprah was interviewing the cast of The Secret Life of Bees which starred Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, and Alicia Keys. This was the first time I had heard of the movie and as a result, the book. I was immediately intrigued but being the type of person I am, I went ahead and watched the movie first as I had to be in the know on opening weekend.
About a year or so passed before I read the book. I loved it, just as I did the movie, and made a note to look into more of her work but time passed and I never really did. However, playing close attention to Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selections is what got her back on my radar and I am so glad it did. The Invention of Wings is by far the best book I have read this year.
In this release, Kidd paints an exquisite picture as readers are introduced to two unforgettable women. Set in the 19th century, we meet Hetty “Handful” Grimke; a slave who belongs to the Grimke household and Sarah Grimke; the daughter who feels stifled by the limitations placed on women at this time.
For Sarah’s eleventh birthday, she is given ownership of Handful who should be her handmaid. This is where the story begins; for the next 35 years we follow these two ladies as they try to live lives of their own only to realize that they will forever be connected, whether they want to or not. Both will experience sorrow as they find out about the dark cruelties of the world. Sarah experiences heartbreak and ostracism from her town until she is forced to leave. However, it is Handful who will bring your heart full as she experiences such deep pain and loss yet still somehow manages to become even stronger in the process.
The relationship between the two, as expected,is the pulse of this story. Sarah does not wish to own a slave; she initially sees Handful as her equal and wants to find a way to fight what her parents consider to be a birthright of some sort. She does not want to control another person or be responsible for someone’s live at such a young age. She wishes to have a friend. And without question, Handful would like to be free. She longs for freedom and the sweet promise of what that would be able to offer her.
The girls spend some of their most important years trying to navigate this maze. What is their true relationship? Is it simply one of slave and owner? Or is there a true kinship there?
Inspired by the historical real life figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd will have you smiling on one page and bawling your eyes out on the other. The raw emotions, the complicated relationships and the bitter history lesson it provides makes it well worth the read. This book depicts the injustice and brutality of slavery in such painstaking detail, there are times where you will want to skim the page but you won’t, because it is important that we read this and that we know – the suffering, the anger and the insurmountable pain. After reading this book along with Solomon Northup’s 12 Years of Slave (now an Academy Award winning film) and countless other books on the subject, if there is one that I know for sure, it is this: the death of slavery did not come soon enough.
It is awe-inspiring and heart wrenching at the same time. After reading this story, I actually researched a little bit more about the Grimke sisters as before I read this book I didn’t know anything about them. A testament to a good book is when I finish that very last chapter and am still eager to know more – this book did that for me. Usually I always find at least one fault with a book that I am reading. This, however, is one that I honestly don’t have anything negative to say. I can guarantee that this won’t be the case for future reviews but it is a testament to Kidd’s work here.
Kidd appeared on an episode of Super Soul Sunday entitled “The Soul of a Writer” earlier this year – take a look at a video which shows part of their discussion here. During other parts of their conversation Kidd also speaks about her writing process, how she got started and what motivates her to keep on going. The whole episode is definitely one to watch and I encourage you all to pick up a copy of The Invention of Wings.
P.S. There is a version of the book which has Oprah’s comments in there, some readers aren’t necessarily fans of that one so be sure you are selecting the one that you want before you buy it.
P.P.S. I am pretty sure this will be made into a movie and it is one that I will definitely be watching!