Slavery of the mind and body- “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd

August 5, 2014 at 11:11 am 4 comments

I am embarrassed that I knew nothing about Sarah and Angelina Grimke before this book.  As an American woman I feel like I should have a better understanding of the amazing women who changed and shaped our lives.  Obviously something I need to do a better job of accomplishing.

The Grimke sisters were born to a slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina. Both women became abolitionists who spoke out against slavery in the mid-1800s, much to their family’s astonishment and disgrace.  They also worked tirelessly for women’s rights.  Sue Monk Kidd has taken Sarah Grimke’s story and written a piece of historical fiction.  The chapters interchange. The first chapter is narrated by a slave, Handful (aka Hetty), owned by the Grimkes. The narrator then changes in the next chapter to Sarah.

Handful’s story is harrowing and everything that is shameful and heart wrenching about slavery – particularly slavery for women, which has the added dimension of rape, pregnancy and motherhood.  Sarah’s story is also harrowing (though less so) as she is trapped in the limitations of being a woman in the 1800s.  Kidd does a commendable job of interweaving the two stories.  She addresses the fact that the unbelievable cruelty of humans can quite quickly become the acceptable normal if we let it.  Even Sarah, who knows in her soul that slavery is wrong, finds herself immune to it at times.

I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it. 

Kidd writes these characters well. All of the women, slave and slave owner, are multidimensional and extremely conflicted.  My struggle with the book is one of society – there were times when Sarah seemed so self-absorbed and removed from the pain of Handful.  But again, how to appropriately judge her is hard because, sitting in my comfortable reading chair in the year of 2014, my life is quite a bit different.  Kidd works tirelessly at conveying that while Handful’s body is enslaved, Sarah’s mind is enslaved.   And while one is quite a bit more devastating, slavery of the mind can be very dangerous.

Perhaps the most beautiful piece of the story is the quilting that Handful and her mother do together at night to tell the story of their lives.  This kind of need to talk about pain, to convey the journey, to know where we come from is powerful.  Without this connection, this history and beauty, Handful would have been lost to all of the horror of slavery with no reprieve.

There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, “Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.



Other reviews to check out:

From Wednesday Book Review

From The Unlikely Librarian 

From daeandwrite



Entry filed under: August 2014 reads. Tags: , , , , , .

Sometimes Disappointment comes in Threes Giving birth to a novel can be painful – “The Midwife of Hope River” by Patricia Harman

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pamela Dae  |  August 5, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for the referral!

    • 2. Emily C  |  August 5, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Of course!

  • 3. Nella  |  August 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it to be far more in-depth than her previous ones. I think she has matured as a writer.

    • 4. Emily C  |  August 5, 2014 at 11:50 am

      I absolutely agree. If I hadn’t known I would not have thought this was the same author.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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