These are tumultuous times we live in, exacerbated on no small part by the disgusting amount of racism still prevalent in our society, both obvious and subtle.
In Sue Monk Kidd’s newest book, she explores the reason of our country’s tendency for backwards thinking through the lives of some very brave – and very real – women.
“The Invention of Wings” is a fiction narrative greatly influenced by real events as told from the perspective of Sarah Grimké and Hattie “Handful” Grimké. Sarah is known in United States history as one of the first female abolitionists (and women’s rights activist) alongside her sister, Angelina. Handful was a slave given to Sarah when they were both children, although even as a child Sarah abhorred slavery.
As a first part of her rebellion, Sarah taught Handful the alphabet and some words, an event that actually happened.
The chapters from Handful’s point of view, however, are mostly fiction, even if Handful and her mother were documented as existing. Most of the major events described from Sarah’s perspective did happen. Kidd’s note from the author at the end better explains where she took liberty with the history of these two women and the people in their lives, including a few plot points and Sarah’s thoughts and feelings.
Nonetheless, Kidd did a fantastic job describing our nation in the early 1800s with the main setting being the Grimké plantation in Charleston. Her research is astounding and realistic, which of course makes the story painful and deeply emotional.
By using many historical documents from this time, Kidd also traces the development of the country without losing the focus on Sarah and Handful. It is a story about these two women, but it is much more as well. Many of the ideas and thoughts brought up in the novel remain relevant to this day, including the self-imposed shackles of racism and sexism.
Only occasionally did the alternating perspectives cause slight confusion. Because each chapter was from one point of view, sometimes the timeline overlapped between the two women. For example, an event described by Sarah’s point of view was mentioned in the next chapter by Handful, although by the end of Sarah’s chapter weeks or months or even years had already passed. So a little back and forth was necessary, and thankfully not too difficult to keep track of.
Altogether, Kidd has written another solid and passionate novel inspired by real women who weren’t afraid to stand up for what is right, even though the entire world (and occasionally their allies) stood against them. She has brought to life a horrific part of our history that still affects us today but ultimately left us with a message of hope – a hope worth fighting for.
At a glance
Title: “The Invention of Wings”
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Penguin Books
Length: 359 pages