The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Historical fiction based on a true story as two sisters fight against slavery and disenfranchisement. Bold, poignant and ultimately uplifting, Sue Monk Kidd's standards certainly haven't dropped; this may be even better than The Secret Lives of Bees.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Tinder Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1472212757

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On her 11th birthday Sarah Grimké is given a special present. It walks towards her decorated with a purple ribbon for 'it' is Hetty, Sarah's new personal slave. They grow up together on the Grimkés' Charleston plantation separated by conventions thought to be set in stone. However each in their own way will rebel; Hetty empowered by her seamstress mother's ancient African tales of resistance and Sarah (alongside her sister Angelina) empowered by defiant dreams.

Sue Monk Kidd has chosen the true story of the Grimké sisters for her fiction follow-up to the acclaimed The Secret Life of Bees. You haven't heard of the Grimkés? Don't let it worry you: Sue herself only came across them for the first time when, as an adult, she read their names on a plaque celebrating women of achievement. The fact that they came from the same town as that in which Sue lived spurred her on to write this revealing and, ultimately, uplifting novel. I won't spoil it by revealing what they did as the author does it so much better than I could, leading us through their journey step by step.

As we've come to expect with historical fiction, the timelines are amended for literary effect and incidental characters are introduced from pure imagination rather than historical memory but this is all explained in some interesting end notes. There's nothing to worry about though. Anyone added to the narrative becomes part of an ensemble story dripping with an aura of authenticity and surprise.

As the chapters alternate between Hetty and Sarah's points of view, we're introduced to a slave force who, while aren't in open revolt, aren't entirely passive either. They work the system wherever possible, introducing moments of surreptitious payback for scant reward, anything being better than nothing.

Most of the slaves are fictional (including young Hetty) however the brutality that hangs over their heads is all too well documented. Once we witness the cruelty of beatings, the more 'humane' punishments (i.e. causing as much pain but with no broken skin) and then, eventually, the tortuous workhouse, we understand Sarah's revulsion and inability to accept privilege without responsibility for people others view as necessary vermin.

Incidentally, Denmark Veasey, the freed black slave, activist and polygamist whom Hetty's mother becomes entangled with, did actually exist despite his story seeming the most fantastic.

Sarah also struggles to break out the confines of her life while being pulled back by the tension of loving those from whom she needs to break away.

Thanks to Sue's skill this isn't a depressing novel. It's written with a sensitivity that engenders vicarious outrage, and, in places, tears rather than washing us away on a tide of sentimentality which would have been the easy (if undesirable) option. There are even lighter moments; I found myself grinning at the thought of running up a flag to denote the change of gender designation on a beach for instance.

This is a fitting tribute to the Grimkés which also makes us in the free world realise that our lives come at a cost that's still being paid in other countries. Although this is an entertaining rather than 'preachy' novel, it also made me wonder how many other pioneers for human rights have been buried inadvertently by posterity and a world that's forgotten.

I'd like to thank Tinder Press for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals then we definitely recommend The Purchase by Linda Spalding, also based on a true story. This time it centres on a pioneering Quaker's backfired attempt to demonstrate his humanity by buying a slave.

Buy The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd at Amazon.com.


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