The Invention of Wings: A Novel

The Invention of Wings: A Novel - Sue Monk Kidd On the occasion of her eleventh birthday Sarah Grimke was given a special (in her mother’s eyes) gift … she was gifted with 10 year-old Hetty – her own slave. Sarah was already the outcast in the family because her hair was too red and unruly, she stammered when she spoke, she had life ambitions and even at eleven knew deep down inside that owning another person was wrong. She tried to return her gift without success and even tried to free Hetty, but all to no avail. Although she knew it would make her life considerably easier than being in the plantation’s fields Hetty, or Handful as her mother named her, was no less eager to be Miss Sarah’s slave. Sarah makes a promise to Hetty’s mother to one day free her. A promise made with the best intentions but one that would prove very difficult to keep. Because of the closeness in their ages, Hetty and Sarah became friends of a sort. Sarah even went so far as to teach Hetty how to read and write, an effort eventually discovered and duly punished.

When Sarah’s sister Angelina was born it began to look like Sarah finally had someone at home to love and who loved her. This was a bond that never faltered or broke throughout their whole lives.

Accompanying her father north to seek medical attention for his lingering illness Sarah discovers a different way of life and a manner of thinking about the slave issue which mirrors her own. A shipboard friendship with a young Quaker man opens up a whole new world for her … a world that dares to value the ideas of women.

With strong wills and a series of happenstances Angelina and Sarah become the first and most forceful women’s voices in the abolitionist movement in the mid 1800’s. Holding up her own end of the fight for freedom back in Charleston Hetty makes some pretty brave decisions of her own.

This book is populated with both fictional and real historical figures. Some of the names were familiar to me and some were not. Ms. Kidd has done her research well to bring both Sarah and Angelina to life in this book. She has used actual quotes from letters and speeches in her dialogue and kept fairly true to the timeline of events that marked the lives of these two incredible sisters. Although many of the slave’s stories were also taken from historical documents and woven brilliantly into this book, I was disappointed to learn that Hetty and her mother, Charlotte, were totally fictional. Ms. Kidd did such an excellent job in writing their voices that I came to admire both of them. I particularly loved Charlotte. Charlotte epitomized the power of the human spirit and a mother's determination. Ms. Kidd does such a remarkable job with her characters that, even though I wanted to, I couldn’t even completely dislike the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Grimke. She was a simply a product of her times and social class.

The story is told in the alternating voices of Hetty and Sarah. This works so well in this book as it gives the reader perspective from both sides of the slave issue. Sometimes the telling runs parallel but mostly each girl moves the story ahead. I had no problem what-so-ever following along between the two voices.

Sarah (1792 – 1873) and Angelina Grimke (1805 – 1879) were indeed real women who took a stand against slavery. Sarah Grimke was the first woman to publish pamphlets and speak publicly against the issue and her “American Slavery” article influenced the writing of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

I listened to the audio version of the book and feel that I should mention and commend the readers in this review as well. Jenna Lamia (also heard on the audio version of “The Help”) and Adepero Oduye brilliantly brought the characters to life.