Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, The Invention of Wings, starts with Sarah Grimké’s 11th birthday in 1805 South Carolina. As a gift from her mother, Sarah receives 10 year old Hetty (Handful) to be her handmaid. Sarah doesn’t want a handmaid, has been scarred at an early age by the cruelties of slavery, so she decides to set Hetty free. It doesn’t take. So Sarah instead befriends Hetty, tries to be as kind as possible, and endeavors to teach Hetty to read. Unfortunately, teaching slaves to read is illegal, and both Hetty and Sarah suffer for their crime.
Sarah is a bright girl who loves to read, and her beloved older brother spends time teaching her Latin and so on. Her dream is to become a lawyer like her father when she grows up. When her family discovers her dream, they ridicule her and inform her that a woman lawyer is an impossibility. Her future should be to try to find a suitable husband and live a respectable life.
Hetty is a bright girl who watches her mother, Charlotte, suffer for her small defiance. Charlotte is a gifted seamstress, and asserts her humanity in small ways…stealing thread, making a story quilt, selling her creations outside of the family and keeping the money. Hetty also bristles under the yoke of slavery, and while Sarah feels that she is a kind master, Hetty feels their inequality and the difference in their limits keenly.
The story follows Sarah and Hetty for about 35 years. I don’t want to tell too much about the story, because I’d rather you discover it for yourself. I will say that I loved the voices of both Hetty and Sarah. It was sometimes frustrating, looking from 2014, to see the cruelty and brutality of slavery, and wanting to slap them and tell them to just DO SOMETHING to get out of this horrid situation. As if it were that easy.
I hadn’t heard much about the book, but I heard a quick part of a review on NPR while in the car the other day. I had some Amazon credit available left over from my birthday, so I bought it for my Kindle right away. GAH! I had purchased a horrid version, with links throughout taking me to Oprah’s personal notes. Nothing like seeing a page half underlined and blue on the screen to make you want to scream. I don’t CARE what Oprah has to say. So I returned the book and exchanged it for a no-Oprah edition. I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I really loved this book.