Review of “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd
Irarely use the word masterpiece when talking about a book, but “The Invention of Wings” has earned this accolade and a spot on my crowded bookshelf. It’s one of the best new books I have read this year, and as I write this has risen to # 6 on the NYTimes Best Sellers list.
One of my favorite reading pastures is historical fiction, but I find I have to watch where I step or I might find myself wiping manure off my reading glasses. Some historical fiction has too little history and way too much fiction to keep me grazing. “The Invention of Wings” is historical fiction at its best with a captivating story based on real sisters and real events.
Author Sue Monk Kidd includes her inspiration for writing this story about a family and their slaves in South Carolina. She commented, “As it turned out, I’d been driving by the Grimke sister’s unmarked house for over a decade, unaware that these two women were the first female abolition agents and among the earliest major American feminist thinkers.”
Sarah Grimke, and the slave Hetty she is forced to accept as her eleventh birthday gift, share the narration in alternating chapters. Hetty and Sarah are only a year apart in age, but world’s apart in every other way. In 1803 there is little freedom or opportunity for women, but no freedom for slaves.
Hetty, called Handful by her slave mother, learns that freedom can be deciding you will not let your spirit or thoughts be “owned” by anyone. Both Hetty and her mother are abused by their owners but they never lose hope that someday they will be freed from slavery.
As the once rich and privileged Sarah abandons the beliefs of her childhood she decides, “By law, a slave was three-fifths of a person. It came to me that what I’d just suggested would seem paramount to proclaiming vegetables equal to animals, animals equal to humans, women equal to men, men equal to angels. I was upending the order of creation. Strangest of all, it was the first time thoughts of equality had entered my head, and I could only attribute it to God, with whom I’d lately taken up and who was proving to be more insurrectionary than law- abiding.”
Kidd is the bestselling author of another book I enjoyed, “The Secret Life of Bees”. Our book club read it 10 years ago and everyone loved it. I’m going to choose “The Invention of Wings” for my turn in a few months. I’ve also purchased it for a gift so I’ve put my money where my mouth is, to use a popular idiom. I want to help it get to #1 on that Best Sellers list.