Top positive review
4.0 out of 5 stars"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.”
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 13, 2014
This is the first book by Sue Monk Kidd that I've read. I normally avoid any Oprah book picks, because I'm not a fan, but I am glad that I took a chance on this one.
The Invention of Wings follows the events in the lives of two women: Hetty "Handful" and Sarah Grimke. Both women are enslaved by the times into which they were born. Hetty is black and born to a slave in pre-Civil War Charleston, SC. Sarah's prominent family owns Hetty and her mother, as well as many other slaves who work in and around the house. Sarah's enslavement may not be as obvious as Hetty's, but even as a white female in the 19th century, she didn't have rights to property, inheritance or education.
At age 10, Hetty is given to Sarah as her 11th birthday present. Sarah has always felt out of place in her family, sneaking in to her father's library to read, though such behavior is discourage. She can't reconcile herself with the idea of owning another human being, so she tries to refuse the "gift." But her mother is firm and so Sarah sets out to make Hetty's life as easy as possible. She also promises Hetty's mother that she will set Hetty free someday.
Over the next 35 years, we follow their lives. Their stories are told from their own viewpoints, switching back and forth. Sarah grows increasingly detached from her family and the South's refusal to change. She struggles to find her purpose in life, feeling that it's more than just what is expected of women: marriage and procreation. Her views force her from her church and she moves north to find a place where she can fit in. Eventually her sister, Nina, who shares her beliefs, joins her.
Hetty, for her part, stays just inside the lines of obedience. She witnesses unthinkable acts against her people, including her own mother. Sarah teaches her how to read, which is strictly forbidden, and she is punished when her education is discovered. However, Hetty chooses to be free in her mind, even though her body is owned by someone else.
What's most intriguing to me about this story is that Sarah Grimke and her sister, Nina (Angelina), were real. I had never heard of them until this book, but they were born into a wealthy Charleston family and they did become outcasts for their views on slavery and racial equality.
What amazed me the most was that when they delivered speeches about abolition, they were held in high regard by their male peers. However, once they cross into women's rights, they are told to stop diluting the message. Being a white female apparently was still being less than a man of any color.
Hetty and her family are fictional, but they are a faithful representation of the lives of those born into slavery during this time.
The writing is so well done, I was literally holding my breath during the final scenes of the book. I don't think I've ever been so anxious about anything in my own life as I was Hetty and Sarah in those moments.
Some favorite points:
•There was so much in the world to be had and not had. (Hetty)
•She’d immersed herself in forbidden privileges , yes, but mostly in the belief she was worthy of those privileges. What she’d done was not a revolt, it was a baptism. I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it. (Sarah)
•The worst troubling thing he told me was how his neighbor down the street— a free black named Mr. Robert Smyth— owned three slaves. Now what you supposed to do with something like that? Mr. Vesey had to take me to the man’s house to meet the slaves before I allowed any truth to it. I didn’t know whether this Mr. Smyth was behaving like white people, or if it just showed something vile about all people. (Hetty)
•Be careful, you can get enslaved twice, once in your body and once in your mind. (Hetty)
•I hadn’t really expected Lucretia to respond, but after a moment, she spoke. “God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world— but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.” She cut her eyes at me and smiled. “I think we know that’s men’s doing.” She leaned toward me. “Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we'll at least try and change the courseof things. We must try, that’s all.” (Sarah)
•That’s what I was born for— not the ministry, not the law, but abolition . I’ve come to know it only this night, but it has always been the tree in the acorn. (Sarah)
•“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.” (Julius Lester)
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