Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk Kidd - Guest Book Review

Published by Headline

Guest book review by Susan Maclean

You may have come new to this author, or you may have read The Secret Life of Bees or The Mermaid Chair already.  Or you may have noticed a blurb from either inside or outside the cover of this novel which says “A powerful, sweeping novel inspired by real events, and set in the American Deep South in the nineteenth century”.  However Sue Monk Kidd crossed your radar, you will pick a winner if you read this. 

A fictional account of  the real lives of two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke of Charleston, South Carolina; it contains a devastating portrayal of slavery in the Southern States of America, and it also brings to our attention the story of these two sisters who fought for the abolition of slavery and more.  And only fictional in that it is told as a story, rather than as a block of information.  It’s well written, and it had me just wanting “another chapter” before I laid the book down. 

It’s told in alternate chapters by Sarah Grimke and by Hetty Handful,  the slave who is given to Sarah on the morning of her eleventh birthday as her handmaid.  Racked with guilt about the way slaves are treated, Sarah wishes this gift be taken back; she does not want her – only to be laughed at by her family.  Sarah would like to be a lawyer, like her father, but as “just a girl” this dream will never come to fruition either.  In both cases, her wishes are ignored,  so Hetty becomes her companion, who she teaches, secretly, to read and write (against the law).  For Sarah, there is a great and devastating punishment for this crime; she is never allowed to read a book from her father’s library again – so this means no more reading, ever.  She must therefore forgo any dream of entering a man’s profession, since women of her class should marry well and run a good home.  As she grows to adulthood, and is shown off in society to seek a husband, something happens that will change her life.

The book is divided easily into chunks headed either Sarah or Hetty, so that you know immediately whose  voice you are listening to.  It’s  fascinating to note how these two different women view the same occurrences and how neither are free in the way we would understand freedom now.

The Invention of Wings covers a period prior to the American Civil War, from 1803 to 1938, and will, perhaps, open your eyes to how it was for house slaves then, the ill-treatment doled out to them as a matter of course, and, interestingly the real thoughts of those slaves, whilst bobbing the knee and repeating “yes’m”.  The abject cruelty towards fellow humans rather takes the breath away until we remember that slavery is not yet dead, and goes on all over the world.  You can read this either as a ripping novel, or as an account of the truth.  Either way, I think you may enjoy the journey.

When you think of the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women, the name Grimke does not spring to mind;  and yet, for what they did, Grimke should be a household name in the world biography of women.  Please don’t forget to read the author’s note at the end of the book – how she found out about the Grimkes, how she decided to write about their lives, and how a young slave called Hetty became the other voice of this book.

Many thanks to Susan for reading and reviewing this novel for The Little Reader Library! Susan blogs at Mac-Adventures (with Books!), do visit her fab blog too!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a superb and important book.

    Stories that explore human cruelty and oppression are sometimes hard to read. Yet they are important to read and often very worth the time.


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