Bestselling author Sue Monk Kidd released her latest novel, The Invention of Wings, in January of last year. A historical novel rooted in the story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, the first female abolitionists and two of the first modern feminists, The Invention of Wings looks at issues of gender, race, and morality from a uniquely dual perspective.
The novel vacillates between being narrated by Sarah Grimke, a young southern belle, and Handful, a slave on the Grimke plantation. Both girls are subversive and oppose not only authority, but also convention, even at the young age of eleven when we first meet them. Kidd follows the girls from childhood into middle age, allowing for the reader to see and understand the situations occurring in and around their lives with a more vibrant and deep verve. There are certain stories and situations that are told both from Handful and Sarah’s point of view, while other events that are extremely important to Handful don’t even make it into Sarah’s narrative (and vice versa), because she is either unaware of them or can’t understand the impact of such events.
While both Handful and Sarah have a certain sisterly bond of love that they both acknowledge, there is a fissure between them that continues to grow as they age. Handful begins to see more and more that Sarah can never understand her position as a slave. Kidd juxtaposes the women’s rights movement with the abolition movement in so that each mirrors the other as a mode of imprisonment. However, Sarah’s issues, though vital in their own right, are often shadowed by the horrors of Handful’s life.
Sarah can at times be an overbearing and frustrating character, especially when she is placed next to Handful, whose greatest trouble can’t even come close to comparing to Sarah’s. In a certain way, The Invention of Wings, shows that everyone’s own biggest issue is as important to them as the next person’s own biggest issue no matter the gap between those issues. Sarah’s dreams and desires cannot be discounted by any means, but in comparison to Handful’s simple wishes for freedom, it’s difficult to have sympathy for the often whining, young southern princess.
Nonetheless, The Invention of Wings is full of strong female characters, Sarah included, who both take a stand against their oppressors and who offer inspiration by virtue of their will, courage, and perseverance.
Published by Penguin Books in January 2014, The Invention of Wings is available at your local bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.