Title: The Invention of Wings
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literature and Fiction
Publishing Date: 2014
“He didn’t like any kind of talk about heaven. He said that was the coward’s way, pining for life in the hereafter, acting like this one didn’t mean a thing.” (pg 185)
“If you were a slave toiling in the fields in Carolina…I suspect you would think the time had fully come.” (pg. 311)
“How could I choose someone who would force me to give up my own small reach for meaning? I chose myself.” (pg. 320)
“The world depends upon the small beating in your heart.” (pg. 321)
“I’d chosen the regret I could live with best.” (pg. 322)
“In Pepperell, we were forced to deliver our message in a barn with the horses and cows. ‘As you see, there’s no room at the inn,’ Nina told them. ‘But, still, the wise men have come.'” (pg. 359)
“The time to assert one’s right is when it’s denied!” (pg. 362)
Synopsis: Based largely in Charleston, South Carolina during the 19th Century, The Invention of Wings shifts between the perspectives of its two heroines: Sarah Grimke, a wealthy daughter of a southern plantation owner, and Hetty “Handful,” the slave given to her on her 11th birthday. The novel follows the two girls as they grow, one shackled by society, the other by slavery. Over the course of the decades covered in the novel, both women face tremendous adversity, suffer devastating losses, and have nothing handed to them during their separate, unique, and equally moving journeys to take flight.
Opinion: This was the book selected by my newly formed book club for our first meeting in September. I imagine most folks were interested in it due to its setting in Charleston, but I’m sure having Oprah’s seal of approval didn’t hurt either.
I’m not new to Sue Monk Kidd. My mom introduced me to her after she fell in love with The Secret Life of Bees, which I also read and enjoyed. Although I don’t think the Bees will stick with me over time the way this novel most certainly will.
I can’t speak for other places in the United States because I’ve only lived in the South. But in the South, we don’t talk about slavery. It’s a dark, blind spot on our histories. We don’t think about it. We learn it briefly when we’re too young to comprehend it, and then we tuck it away and imagine it was all just a bad dream. Just hearing the word “slave” itself makes me wince in discomfort.
And that’s why I loved this book.
Not because it’s about slavery, but because it’s honest about slavery. It’s honest about what it was and why it existed and what it did to the people who experienced it firsthand.
I loved this book because it wasn’t some warm and fuzzy benevolent-slave-owner-befriends-her-slave story. Although Hetty and Sarah do bond on some level, it’s clear with every encounter that they are not friends.
I loved this book because both heroines end up having to create freedom for themselves. Because society wasn’t ready and no one was going to help them.
And most of all, I loved this book because it made me think about the horrors of slavery outside of the physical (which are horrible enough on their own). It helped me to begin to understand the psychological pain of being owned. The way it devastates one’s soul. The way it crumbles you from within.
Kidd says it best herself in her Author’s Note at the end of the novel: “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”
In The Invention of Wings, Kidd successfully goes beyond facts and events to accurately portray an institution we struggle to understand or even acknowledge today. For that, I’m thankful to have read this book.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Who Should Read This Book: Kidd fans, of course. Anyone who feels trapped in society. Young women looking for books with incredible, strong heroines. Historical fiction lovers. And everyone who would like acknowledge slavery with less discomfort and more empathy.