Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
-Synopsis from Goodreads
I happened to come across an article on “powerful reads” and this one was a suggestion. I ordered my copy immediately without a thought. I didn’t know what to expect from it, other than it being a book on the atrocities of slavery in the 19th century deep down South America. But it is a book with so much more than just that. I hadn’t even read the blurb when I ordered it but finished the entire book in two sittings!
The story is a semi-factual account of Sarah Grimké , who was an actual abolitionist of slavery and a women’s rights advocate born in Charleston, S.C. in the early 1800s.
This is a world in which “owning people was as natural as breathing” and on her 11th birthday Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy family, is given 10-year old slave-girl Handful as a gift, wrapped in lavender ribbons. But for Sarah, it feels far from “natural” and she stands against the notion of slavery, teaching Handful to read and promising one day to free her – an outcome that drives the plot as the years progress from 1803 to 1838. By alternating chapters between the first-person voices of Sarah and Handful, we are forced deep into both perspectives and their silent friendship. Handful’s “slave tongue” dialect is filled with hurt, longing and defiance, while Sarah, who struggles with speech, “pulled words up from her throat like she was raising water from a well”. It’s when they find voices to articulate the pain of being silenced that they pave their path to freedom.
Multitudes of emotions and the vivid storytelling kept me engrossed till the end.Inspired by actual historical figures like Sarah and Angelina Grimké and Denmark Vesey, and enlivened by original creations like Charlotte and Handful, The Invention of Wings is the extraordinary story of two struggles for freedom: the battle of Handful to find the wings her mother promised and the equally intense quest of Sarah to liberate her mind and spirit in a world where a woman held no position equal to a man.
My favorite section is when her mother tells her that her ancestors in Africa could fly over trees and clouds. That day, Handful’s mother, Charlotte, gave her daughter the gift of hope— the possibility that someday she might regain her wings and fly to freedom. Throughout Kidd’s exquisitely written story, Handful struggles, sometimes with quiet dissidence, sometimes with open rebellion, to cultivate a belief in the invincibility of her spirit and in the sacred truth that one does not need actual wings in order to rise.
Beautiful imagery with beautifully carved out characters and an equally beautiful story of hope, struggle and friendship makes you love and live the story!
P.S. A lot of interesting information is packed in the Author’s Note where she notes down the sections of the story which are fictional and the ones where it’s factual and has taken reference from incidents in history.
Have you read this book? If yes, do share your thoughts.
If not, you could get a copy from Amazon.in.