Posts Tagged ‘Sue Monk Kidd’

Summer Reading: Fiction & Facts (Posting #1)

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Note: During the summer I will post reviews of books I am reading that reflect my love of both novels and educational books. Here is the first one, which I finished a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post before I went on a short trip, which will be my next posting in Travel Tales or Photo Gallery.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd,

Bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees


Ten years before the women’s Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and 15 years before Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina (Nina) were, as author Sue Monk Kidd states in her Author’s Notes: “crusading not only for the immediate emancipation of slaves, but for racial equality, an idea that was radical even among the abolitionists…the Grimkes were fighting a bruising battle for women’s rights, taking the first blows of backlash.”

While this book is fiction, it is based on the information that Kidd researched about the Grimke sisters, raised in Charleston, South Carolina, to a well-to-do family of note with many slaves. When Sarah received Handful (Hetty) as her handmaiden/slave for her 12th birthday, Sarah balked. Slavery was already an abomination to her. She spent the rest of her life, aided by her much younger sister Nina, whom she “groomed” from childhood to speak out against repression, to work out against slavery and also for women’s rights.

In the early 1800s, women were still “seen and not heard,”and Kidd does a marvelous job of imbuing both sisters with passion and purpose. Handful is also an important part of the sisters’ journey, because Sarah made a promise to Handful’s mother Charlotte to help her “personal slave” seek freedom. Sarah taught Handful how to read as the first step to freedom. This cost Sarah to be banished from her father’s library, which she loved so much, that after this banishment she fell into a deep depression for several months.

The chapters switch back and forth between Sarah and Handful, so the story of freedom, both for Sarah as an early feminist and for Handful as a slave, is compelling reading. Sue Monk Kidd has a way with words, as most southern writers seem to possess, and the story came alive like a movie I was watching on a wide screen instead of a words I was reading in a book.

The complexity of family life, the horrible punishment meted out to recalcitrant slaves, the agony and ecstasy of the Grimke sisters’ journey from Charleston to Philadelphia are eye-opening, making history come alive for me. While the book is a novel, Kidd did extensive research to make the book have the ring of truth. And though much of the story is fictitious, it is grounded on the true-life journey of the Grimke sisters and how they created history for the anti-slavery and women’s movement, which they saw as inextricably connected. The sisters were persona non grata in the South because they were abolitionists and Quakers, and when they took on women’s rights, they were equally criticized by the Quakers in the North, because they were standing up for women, as well. They were courageously outspoken at a time when women were not.

Kidd noted that she had passed the sisters’ home in Charleston many times when she lived there without realizing its significance. I think Kidd wrote this book because she herself felt guilty that she did not know about the Grimke sisters, and by writing the book, she pays homage to these courageous women. I am grateful that Kidd’s conscience, or perhaps only an interest in women’s history, triggered her need to write The Invention of Wings. Now I know Sarah and Nina need to be at the top of the anti-slavery and women’s rights movement, taking their rightful place in U.S history.


Wood carvings of the Grimke sisters from the website for National Women’s History Museum: