Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd is an author I have enjoyed in the past having read two of her books The Mermaid Chair and the more famously known The Secret Life of Bees,  made into a movie in 2008. So it was with a sense of expectation I started on her latest novel The Invention of Wings

It was not until I was halfway through that I discovered that the main characters the Grimké sisters were actually real. The story starts with Sarah Grimke receiving “Handful” (Hetty) a ten year old negro as her servant - a gift from her mother on her eleventh birthday. Sarah, who was intelligent beyond her female expectations, longed to be a lawyer like her father and older brother and felt right from the start that she would not have a servant and would sign her back to her mother to set her free.

Of course this did not go down well and so the story starts as we read about Handful and Sarah – alternative chapter upon chapter from 1803 eventually through to 1838. Sarah relished books and an education. When her youngest sister was born, Sarah begged her parents to allow her to become Angelina's godmother. She became part mother and part sister to her much younger sibling, and the two sisters had a close relationship all their lives. Angelina often called Sarah "Mother". Sarah was not considered very pretty and so it was concerned that she would never marry. Her parents were very keen for her to take up the offer of proposal to the first eligible man who offered. Sarah had other ideas it appeared as though forbidden by her father to re-enter his library after an episode over the ‘stealing’ of a book, longed to be more than just a “lady”.

Through all this her slave Handful worked as a seamstress a gifted talent handed on from her mother. Handfuls character although originally recorded as being given as a servant to Sarah is primarily made up by Sue even though the idea of “the invention of wings” comes from a story told to Handful by her mother.

The story written alternative chapter by chapter of the two women and their lives tells of the plight of slaves in southern America and the true story of Sarah and ‘Nina’ as they rebel against society, joining the Quakers and eventually becoming famous abolitionists.

Sue writes in an informative way that draws you in to the sotry and characters making her novels a joy to read. In this instance the fact that the story's characters are from history is also a drawcard for me as I enjoy the learning of history through a writers own depiction of the people and events.

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