I’m not black. And I’ve never been the victim of a hate crime. But I do know something about this kind of hate. The kind born from ignorance. From unintelligence. The kind that never learned how to evolve. Or how to think for itself. The kind that only regurgitated the hate it was fed its whole life without ever questioning its validity. Without ever assessing its merit, its truths.
When that 21-year-old boy’s father gave him a gun for his birthday, did he think about what else he’d given him? Had he given him the ability to know right for wrong? Had he given him his own prejudices?
Did he tell him the purest truths: That all human beings are beautiful? That all life is precious? That all places of worship are sacred?
What else was given to that boy before someone pushed a cool metal barrel into his sweaty palms?
We are not born with hate. But we breed it. We create it. We allow for it.
And now we all suffer the consequences of this kind of hate.
But I will not pretend I don’t have a role in this crisis; we are all a part of the world we create.
So let’s give our children the gifts of love and knowledge, not bullets and guns. Let’s arm them with the ability to question norms, not destroy what is different. Let’s give them the chance to be better than the generations before them. And pray they never know the hollow and helpless feeling that comes from witnessing this kind of hate.
“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.
We used to make leaf piles. Rake the yard clean of fallen mahogany and amber and crispy browns until the shivering blades of grass beneath were revealed. We’d drag all those colors into the back corner of the yard. But we didn’t burn them. No we’d never let them go up in flames.
We piled them tall and wide until we created a mattress-sized heap of all the trees had shed that year. Then we jumped high in the air and let our bodies fall carelessly down to earth.
It was fall when I found you. Or you found me. And we both forgot – even if for just a moment – that our hearts were too broken to love again. And the time it took for a ruby-red Sweetgum leaf to dance its way from the highest tree branch to the anxiously awaiting ground below, that was all the time we needed.
We were falling too.
In a coastal town you have to seek fall out or you’ll never realize she’s there. When the humidity steps aside, backs away after a cleansing rain. And winter’s bite hasn’t taken hold. The sun is still warm, but the swirling breeze carries just enough coolness to make it possible to sit under those soothing rays forever.
I miss the way the Georgia trees paint the ground with colors. And spending all day in the backyard raking up those leaves just so I could fall with splendid abandon.
But the trees here don’t change with the seasons. And as quick as she comes to visit, fall will move on.
So I’ll just breathe in each precious moment. And be thankful that a childhood spent watching leaves tumble helplessly in the air was enough to give me the courage for my greatest fall. When there was no leaf pile to catch me.
I have forty minutes left before my work day ends and I’m free to live life for a measly five hours. What can I do in forty minutes? Well, I suppose I can tell you a story.
The first time I saw his face, other than the photographs I’d studied diligently on Facebook, I had already fallen for him. It was a warm November night. A Saturday. He drove from Atlanta. We had never met, not in person. We had mutual friends of friends of friends. We chatted online. Then via text message. And eventually had lengthy nightly phone conversations, reminiscent of freshmen year of high school.
We talked about things we liked and didn’t like. Why we were single and what we were looking for. Who had broken our hearts. Whether or not those hearts were actually mended. We talked about growing up and screwing up. We talked about music and movies and books and the world around us.
We fell in love over the telephone. And then he showed up on my doorstep.
I was shocked at how tense he was. I’d had the luxury of two strong lemon drops to ease my nerves.
He stayed with me that weekend. Eventually he calmed down. Became the person I’d spent every evening with on the phone.
He kissed my forehead in a bar that night. It was our first kiss.
The next day, before he had to leave, I walked him all around the most beautiful parts of Charleston. Historic architecture. Waterfront parks. Cobblestone streets. I kept trying to sell him on the city I’d come to love so much.
Do you like it? I’d ask over and over again. Yes, he’d say. Yes, it’s wonderful.
Before he left he took me by my waist and asked what happens next. I didn’t know what he wanted to hear or I didn’t know what I wanted to say, so I said, What do you mean?
And he said, I don’t want to leave here without you being mine.
And I thought, I was yours before you ever arrived.