The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
During the Civil War era, sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimpke were widely known not only as abolitionists but also as feminists. When she was a young girl, Sarah had been gifted a young slave named Hetty for her birthday, and Sarah taught her to read.
From the bare bones of these historical facts, Kidd has brought to life an outstanding novel, remarkable for its human characterization and insight.
In Kidd’s novel, Sarah is a restless girl with big dreams of becoming a lawyer and freeing her slave, Hetty. Her teen years sharpen her awareness of the inequalities faced by women and people of color (both slave and free.)
Hetty’s alternate chapters provide an unflinching look at the harsh realities of life for a female slave. Her mother, Charlotte, is a gifted seamstress who passes on her family’s African oral traditions through the art of her quilts.
Although it is illegal, Sarah is determined to give Hetty a tiny freedom in being literate. Neither of them can forsee the long-ranging consequences of this descision.
As an adult, Sarah is free to travel, and encounters the Quakers, who have radical ideas about freedom for slaves and women. She soon discovers that some of these ideas are more theory than practice.
Hetty, meanwhile, gets drawn into plans for a slave revolt. These plans, too, might never become a reality.
When she was only 12, Sarah was made the godmother to her sister Angelina. Their relationship is at once close and volatile. As a young woman trying to find her own way, Sarah is ill-equipped to help her sister in her own rebellion against societal expectations. But when both sisters are adults, they grow into an unexpected partnership. The differences that drove them apart as girls make them an effective pair in the fight for equal rights for all people.
Hetty’s mother taught her to always make quilts with black triangles, representing blackbird wings. Like Sarah and Angelina, Hetty never gives up hope that someday she, too, can fly free.
The Invention of Wings is an outatanding book. Kidd has done an excellent job with both historic detail and character development that make the story come alive.
Having already read most of Kidd’s previous works, I recognize many common themes from her: anti-slavery and racial equality, as well as equal rights for women- especially in the church- being the most obvious. The importance of contemplative prayer, art, and symbolism of nature are others.
In the context of Sue Monk Kidd’s other books, The Invention of Wings is clearly a natural progression as well as a pinnacle of her writing
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