I haven’t read Sue Monk Kidd’s best selling novel, The Secret Life of Bees, but I always meant to. When I came across this, her latest book, I jumped at the chance to give it a go. I was especially interested after recently studying the period including in part the slave trade. Set in early 19th century Charleston, The Invention of Wings is based on the real life abolitionist and feminist, Sarah Grimke and Handful (Hetty), a slave owned by Sarah’s family. Told in alternating chapters from each woman, it’s a powerful story evoking sadness, anger and yet also a lot of hope.
When 11 year old Sarah is given Handful as a present from her plantation owning parents, she knows even then that the idea of owning another human is abhorrent to her. Sarah is determined to set Handful free…but she’s female and lives in a time and place that expects nothing of women other than to marry well.
I was drawn in to both character’s lives immediately. I loved Handful’s determination and spirit and found her story, although often harrowing, awe inspiring and admired her greatly. While Sarah’s position appears to be the exact opposite, I also loved her quiet bravery and determination and the way in which she gained strength throughout the novel. It’s a novel to provoke strong emotions, and my only critique is that it felt very rushed toward the second half of the book where a lot happens very quickly, loosing some impact as a result. In an authors note at the end, Sue Monk Kidd tells us what happened to Sarah during the rest of her fascinating life, but as Handful is an imagined character, I couldn’t help but wish she’d wrote an epilogue for her and her story felt just a little unfinished. Of course this is entirely down to Sarah Grimke being a real person with a researchable history, so completely understandable.
The Invention of Wings is one of those books that provokes a huge range of emotions; Anger, sadness, pride and a real connection to and care for the two main characters. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Published by Headline (UK) January 2014