There are certain novels that are so wonderful they keep me reading, always hoping I will find another wonderful one. If you are a reader, I am sure you can think of at least ten such novels. What is even more wonderful is how personal this is, how each reader is unique as to what makes a novel wonderful.
Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was such a novel for me. Now I have added her latest novel, The Invention of Wings, to my personal list of wonderful novels. And this is the last time I will use the word wonderful in this review!
The story involves a slave owning family and their slaves. The Grimke household is located in Charleston, NC. In 1803, on her eleventh birthday, Sarah Grimke is given her own personal slave, Hetty, also known as Handful because she is one.
Although her family has always owned slaves, Sarah is horrified by the idea of herself owning another human being. Instead she makes Hetty into a friend and begins teaching her to read. Soon enough both of them are in big trouble, but from that day on Sarah, Hetty, Hetty's mother Charlotte, and Sarah's baby sister Angelina are bound together.
Sarah and Angelina grow up to be abolitionists and feminists, though of course they are expelled from their family home and from Charleston. All four women struggle, rebel, and suffer before the Civil War has even begun. Each one crosses the treacherous lines and boundaries of family, racism, and patriarchal traditions in a relentless search for freedom.
Readers of this blog know that I take umbrage at writers who unsuccessfully tell stories about other races, nationalities, or countries to which they do not belong. I hereby admit that some authors can manage such a feat convincingly and Sue Monk Kidd has done it twice. But if a person of color reads this review and disagrees, I am open to what you have to say.
I read The Invention of Wings in two days, carried along by the excellence of Ms Kidd's writing craft and immersed in her characters' adventures. I felt proud to be a human being. Here it is 2014 and we still encounter racism and oppression of women on a daily basis but from the beginning of time there have been individuals who stood up to humans oppressing humans and said, "No!"
(The Invention of Wings is available in hardcover on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)