I have always loved to read. I am the type of reader who has been known to stay up into the night because I need to know what happens next. Sadly, over the past few years, there has been little time for enjoyable reading and when I did try to read, I lost interest very quickly. I’m uncertain of how many books I have purchased electronically and leave sitting there on my perpetual shelf.
Grief often takes away things that you once enjoyed and all along I have known that someday I would fall in love with a good book again.
And I found that book: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.
I first must share that I often decide upon a book by surveying reviews in many of the multiple magazines I read. If I find a book is receiving multiple positive reviews and it interests me, I will read a sample chapter. If I want to keep going after the first chapter I will usually buy the book.
The Invention of Wings is currently an Oprah’s book club recommendation and although I do typically like Oprah’s choices, I do not always buy and read. It was only after every magazine I read gave high reviews that I went and pre-ordered the book. (There is nothing worse than getting excited to read a great book and then having to wait a month).
By the time it was available, I had forgotten what most of the reviews had said and only knew the book was supposed to be great. Nonetheless, it was fantastic.
The book focuses upon urban slavery in the years before the Civil War. When we first meet the two main characters, Sarah Grimke, an 11 year old plantation owner’s daughter, is being given Hetty (Handful) as her personal handmaid/slave. At age 11, Sarah does not want a maid and is already aware of the injustice of slavery. Over the years, Sarah and Hetty develop a friendship. Despite knowing it is illegal, as a child Sarah even teaches Hetty to read.
The book is alternately narrated by both women and is blending of nonfiction and fiction. We watch Sarah struggle as her outspoken nature does not have a place in Charleston society and she eventually finds a way to the North. After Sarah’s departure, Hetty is bound to the Grimke family where she must wittiness her mother endure cruel punishment and is abused herself by Sarah’s mother. Sarah and her younger sister eventually become leading abolitionists and speak throughout the North in regards to slavery and eventually the rights of women.
It was only after I finished the book (after staying up several nights in a row and totally messing up my sleep cycle) that I was reminded that Sarah Grimke and her younger sister Angelina are not fiction but are real women. These women were considered radical for the abolitionists of the time and it is believed one of their most popular pamphlets inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Through research, Sue Monk Kidd discovered that Sarah was indeed given a slave named Hetty as a birthday present. Records show that Hetty died a few years later but that Sarah did teach her to read. For the purpose of the book, the author provided an alternate story line to go with Sarah’s.
As do most books written in the era of slavery, this book made me think about how I would have reacted if I lived in this time period. It is very easy for most of us today to state how we would react and respond. If you lived in a predominant culture where you were expected to simply be seen and not heard (Sarah), would you have the strength to speak out? Young Sarah loved books and dreamed of becoming an attorney but was mocked and laughed at by her father and brothers. She became an outcast because of her beliefs that slaves should have rights and was unwelcomed by her city.
As a social worker, I like to think I would have been one of those women. However, this book reminds you of the culture of the day. It shows the struggle and strength it takes to go against the predominate thought of the day. It is sad that the history of Sarah Grimke and her sister have not been shared. However, with the book, we are not only given an excellent read but also a history lesson into our past and the story of two sisters.
I will remember this book for several reasons but most of all I will remember it as the book that made me fall in love with reading again.
Sheryl is a transition coach, trainer and speaker from Lexington Kentucky. As the author of the blog How to Make A Life, she uses her own life and journey as a blueprint to help others find motivation, inspiration and hope for a healthy and happy life. About Twitter Instagram Pinterest