I’m a new Sue Monk Kidd reader and, based on The Invention of Wings, I’m impressed. Kidd has taken the story of two sisters who fought for Abolition and women’s rights in the early 19th century and turned it into an engaging novel.
At stake are two key issues. Can you turn non-fiction into gripping fiction? And, can you address hot button topics in a sensitive and engaging way? Kidd does an excellent job at both.
Kidd takes us into the structured society that is early 19th century Charleston and introduces us to two strong-minded women. She then runs a parallel story about a slave girl the same age as one of the sisters and her rebellious mother. They all pay a brutal price for being smart and wanting more than society dictates is their due.
Sarah, the older sister is given Handful, as her maid on her 11th birthday. Not believing in slavery, she tries to emancipate her only to be rebuffed. Hoping to be a lawyer, she’s crushed when her brother is allowed to pursue that ambition but she is denied. Upon being caught teaching Handful to read, she is no longer allowed access to books forward, a crushing blow to an active mind.
When her younger sister, Angelina, is born Sarah becomes her godmother and there the story turns. The women find their voices and freedom together, denying society’s constraints and paying a price in the process. They become famous abolitionists in the process.
Handful finds freedom though her mother dies broken.
Do we find ourselves alone or through the influence of others? What keeps us going when society denies us our voice? How can those with little voice dare to speak out and be heard when so many forces want to keep them quiet?
I’ve been seeing this theme a lot lately: women breaking out of their shells. Personally, I find such stories inspiring. And Kidd does a beautiful job with her language, creating and embellishing a world. Yes, there are conflicts but the story shines.