The Invention Of Wings
The Invention Of Wings is the third Sue Monk Kidd novel I have read following The Mermaid Chair and the highly regarded The Secret Life Of Bees.
The novel works as a dual narrative, switching between daughter of wealthy plantation owners Sarah Grimke and her slave girl Handful whom she is "given" as a gift on her 11th Birthday to literally be her personal slave.
Where this story alters from standard slave/mistress or slave/master stories is that Sarah despite her background and upbringing is vehemently pro-abolition daring and incurring the wrath and disapproval of the society she finds herself in. She refuses the gift when Handful is presented to her only to be punished and to have the honour forced upon her in the coming days.
Both Sarah and Handful are beautifully drawn as the novel follows them from childhood right through to their early 40s. Sarah is a unique and fairly admirable character, repeatedly flying in the face of what would be the easiest and most comfortable for her and her own life to stand up for her rights as a woman and the rights of all women.
I was really glad to read this novel, for too often, stories like this are told in a pardon-the-pun black and white way. We rarely if ever hear the voice of the minority white in the slavery era, who thought slavery was abominable and strove to change it. It also stays honest, at times we see Sarah Grimke, though a heroine, her heart in the right place, act in the racist way that has been indoctrinated in her.
I thought it was unique and clever and then wondered : But is this realistic, would a person with the background of Sarah Grimke ever have been able to do this? Ever acted in such a way in the face of such huge censure, at one point unable to return to her family home for fear of being lynched?
Imagine my delight therefore to discover upon closing an Authors Note that revealed Sarah Grimke was in fact a very real person, who did many if not all of the things ascribed to her. I had never heard of her before and this seems a real pity as she truly was a heroine of her time. The novel also made me question, question if I had been born Sarah
Grimke or someone like her, would I have been brave enough to stand up
the way she did or would I have conformed? I really hope I would have
Whether Handful ever existed or certainly the Handful that is portrayed is unlikely and unknown which seems a shame - and a little like a betrayal of all the real Handfuls who did. The story begins with Sarah's refusal of her, a real event, and so in some ways it would have been a further betrayal of those women to have the girl who was offered and rejected be silent in the novel, but her story cannot be considered authentic in the way that Sarah's is.
I would love to see this made into a Hollywood film mainly because Sarah Grimke deserves to be more widely known, and the story of the women who were part of the abolition movement more widely honoured.