In her third novel (after The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair), Sue Monk Kidd has gone back in time to the fledgling abolitionist movement that preceded the Civil War by several decades, basing The Invention of Wings on the lives of two actual women from South Carolina – Sarah and Angelina Grimke – and entwining them with the fictional story of Handful, a young slave girl who grows up being owned by the Grimke family.
In the novel, women were encouraged by abolitionist leaders to use their feminine wiles and powers of persuasion on the male members of their families to make them see that slavery was wrong and to free their slaves, but were hushed up if the subject of women’s subordination to men came up in the same context.
Alternating between the voices of Handful and Sarah, this compelling work of historical fiction stood out for me with the depth of characterization and the intensity of Handful and Sarah’s relationship as slave and slave owner and the closeness that develops between the two free-thinking sisters, Sarah and Angelina. With her far more urgent desire for freedom for herself and her mother, Handful steals the story from the two sisters who wrestle for years with their consciences, remaining bound by society’s strictures.
This richly imagined novel of the pre-Civil War period brings both African-American history and women’s history to life with an unsentimental story of two women who became sisters under the skin – Handful, a slave in body who traveled freely in her thoughts, and Sarah, an ostensibly free white woman whose thoughts were shackled by family and society.
The Invention of Wings
Kidd, Sue Monk
Jan. 7, 2014
Disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from Library Journal for review. The original version of this review appeared in Library Journal.