Book Review: THE INVENTION OF WINGS

January 7, 2014 at 7:16 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.” ~Sue Monk Kidd, THE INVENTION OF WINGS 

From the Publisher

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women…

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.

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 Recommendation

I was drawn to THE INVENTION OF WINGS because I am a huge fan of Kidd’s THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, and because I have a particular and personal interest in slavery and race relations. I expected the novel to be great, and it even surpassed my high expectations. Told in thoughtful, rich prose, Kidd’s novel is utterly absorbing, and continues to shine important light on the dark past of American slavery.

Sarah Grimke seems to be a fragile and tender girl, with a heart larger than her courage, but as the novel progresses, Sarah becomes a woman of great strength and integrity, capable of more than she could imagine. Told in alternating points of view, the sections of the slave girl, Handful, are equally mesmerizing because of her spunk and courage. She is an astute, intelligent, and wide-eyed observer of the women around her, and possesses the voice I most longed for when away from her scenes.

The accounts of slavery in the book are brutal without being gratuitous, and the relationships of familial and romantic love are realistic and compelling without a shred of sentimentality. Kidd is a master at balancing a wealth of largely unknown historical information with a transportive story of sin and redemption, tragedy and triumph, peopled with flawed characters whose lives bring about great personal and national growth.

THE INVENTION OF WINGS was selected as the next Oprah 2.0 pick for good reason. In a sweeping drama spanning decades, Sue Monk Kidd tackles the very marrow of the abolitionist movement, how it corresponded with the start of the women’s rights movement, and the heroic women at its heart. This is a novel that begs to be discussed and shared, and would make an excellent book club selection. I give THE INVENTION OF WINGS my highest recommendation.

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2 Comments

  1. Melissa Crytzer Fry said,

    I cannot wait to read this; was so excited to see she’d tackled historical fiction. Have read lots of reviews on her “process” that I’ve found fascinating. I’ve read Kidd’s SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE MERMAID CHAIR. She’s brilliant. Thanks for the insight, Erika! Happy new year.

  2. Super Soul Sunday with Sue Monk Kidd, and a Giveaway | Muse said,

    […] INVENTION OF WINGS is one of the best books I have read in 2014. (Read my review here.) Imagine my thrill when Super Soul Sunday chose my video question to include in Sue’s […]

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