The Invention of Wings

Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
ISBN: 9780670024780
Number of Pages: 384
How I Got It: NetGalley

NetGalley Description: 
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review:
Sue Monk Kidd's childhood in Sylvester, Georgia influenced her debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees. After publication in 2002, it didn't budge from the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years. After selling more than 8 million copies worldwide, it would be an understatement to say that anticipation of her latest release is met with high expectations. So let me tell doesn't disappoint.

Inspired by the historical figure Sarah Grimke, Sue Monk Kidd describes The Invention of Wings as "a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women. A masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world."
The novel opens on Charlotte telling her ten year old daughter, Hetty "Handful," a story of people in Africa being able to fly, but after they were taken as slaves their magic disappeared. Charlotte tells this story while the two are snuggled up in their bed in the Grimkes' barn. The next day, Sarah Grimke's eleventh birthday, Sarah's parents give her Handful as a gift. Sarah rejects her gift, and is exiled to her room to write eighteen letters of apology to the party's guests, while Handful is positioned in her new sleeping quarters on a mat outside of Sarah's door. She'd "lay on the floor in the hall, trying to stay warm in the draft, twisting round in search of the softest floorboard."

Over the next thirty-five years, each woman sees the injustices of slavery and dreams of freedom. While her entire family, (as well as most Southerners,) defends slavery, Sarah Grimke rejects it at every turn. Handful gains knowledge, strength, and cunning from her mother, Charlotte. She experiences losses but finds a sense of self by realizing "I have one mind for the master to see.  I have another mind for what I know is me."  Sarah's aspirations, loves, and acceptance by her family are all crushed. Her comment on one occasion is "My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment." Each woman repeatedly challenges the restrictions placed upon them and each setback merely serves to motivate them further.

It is only her younger sister, Angelina, that shares Sarah's views of equality between men and women and the abolition of slavery. Due to a large gap in age, Sarah treats Angelina like her own daughter and Angelina follows in her older sister's attempts to have her voice heard and do something to change the current institutions. History tells us how the the two sisters were leaders in the suffragist movement, but Kidd provides a backstory of how they may have come to their beliefs.

The Invention of Wings has recently been selected by Oprah Winfrey for her Book Club 2.0. Winfrey explained that her choice was made the moment she finished reading the novel because “these strong female characters represent the women that have shaped our history and, through Sue’s imaginative storytelling, give us a new perspective on slavery, injustice and the search for freedom.”

Taking four years to complete, it is hard to distinguish which characters are real or invented, just as it impossible to tell which parts of the story are factual and which are imagined. Kidd provides great detail in a special section at the end of the novel about her thoughts while she was creating what is sure to be her next best seller.

** I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review **

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