Friday, December 18, 2015

The Invention of Wings

Book 64 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from September 19 - 22

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Summary (via Goodreads)
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Opinion
This was a book club read.

I love the quote from the author's note - "In writing The Invention of Wings, I was inspired by the words of Professor Julius Lester, which I kept propped on my desk: "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." "

Although she took liberties with the time periods and attributions (between the sisters and things that were accurate for the era but not necessarily Sarah's story), Sarah Grimke really was gifted a slave named Hetty at a young age, she did teach her to read, and they were both punished (Hetty died of an unspecified disease a short time later).

There was more emotion that could've been wrung out at certain points but why am I complaining that I didn't cry?  I had a visceral reaction to this book.  It was about slavery and racism and inequality and women's rights and it still makes me so angry that our country has this in our history (and present day in some cases).

A Few Quotes from the Book

"People say love gets fouled by a difference as big as ours. I didn't know for sure whether Miss Sarah's feelings came from love or guilt. I didn't know whether mine came from love or a need to be safe. She loved me and pitied me. And I loved her and used her. It never was a simple thing. That day, our hearts were pure as they ever would get."

"We were like the gold leaf mirror and the horse saddle. Not full-fledge people. I didn't believe this, never had believed it a day of my life, but if you listen to white folks long enough, some sad, beat-down part of you starts to wonder. All that pride about what we were worth left me then. For the first time, I felt the hurt and shame of just being who I was.

  After a while, I went down to the cellar. When mauma saw my eyes, she said, "Ain't nobody can write down in a book what you worth.""

"...Why would God plant such deep yearnings in us...if they only come to nothing?" It was more of a sigh than a question. I was thinking of Charlotte and her longing to be free, but as the words left my mouth, I knew I was thinking of myself, too.

   I hadn't really expected Lucretia to respond, but after a moment, she spoke. "God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world - but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that's God's doing." She cut her eyes at me and smiled. "I think we know that's men's doing."
  She leaned toward me. "Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it's brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We're all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren't we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we'll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that's all."
  I felt her words tear a hole in the life I'd made. An irreparable hole."

"[Nina] was braver than I, she always had been. I cared too much for the opinions of others, she cared not a whit. I was cautious, she was brash. I was a thinker, she was a doer. I kindled fires, she spread them. And right then and there after, I saw how cunning the Fates had been. Nina was one wing. I was the other."

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