The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Invention of wingsOne reviewer called this novel by the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees a “classic-to-be.”  It tells the story of the 19th century abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimke, who grew up in Charleston.  On her eleventh birthday, her parents presented her with a personal slave named Hetty.  Sarah found slavery profoundly disturbing and wanted to help Hetty gain her freedom.  Although teaching a slave to read was illegal in South Carolina at the time, she secretly tutored Hetty.  Eventually, Sarah became an abolitionist with views too radical for even the Quakers.  Sarah’s younger sister, Angelina, a superb speaker, helped Sarah in this work.

Chapters alternate between two narrators, Sarah and Hetty, whom Kidd gives the nickname “Handful.”  While Sarah really did teach Hetty to read, history gives few other facts about Sarah’s personal slave; therefore, most of “Handful’s” story in the novel is strictly fiction.  Many parts of that story, however, are all too true; you’ll never again see the beautiful city of Charleston without an awareness of its dark side during the days before the Civil War.

The Invention of Wings is a fascinating story about three remarkable women.  If you’re interested in finding out which parts of the novel follow the historical record, read the lengthy author’s note at the end of the book.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)

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