Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd


The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
narrated by Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduye, Sue Monk Kidd
Penguin Audio, 2014
13 hours and 46 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
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.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Thoughts:

It's always a good thing when a novel sends me back to my history books. I had heard that the Grimke sisters in The Invention of Wings were real people, but that fact slipped my mind until I was almost halfway through the book. Once it finally clicked, I became even more impressed with both the novel and the research behind it.

The Invention of Wings makes early nineteenth century Charleston come alive - I could practically feel its pulse. Sarah Grimke is our window into its slave-owning, high-society circles. At the beginning of the novel she receives a slave, complete with a lavender bow tied around her neck, as an eleventh birthday present. Hetty, that slave, also known as Handful, represents the opposite end of the spectrum. Their stories, perfectly balanced and told in alternating voices, give structure to the novel. They eventually collide with the abolition movement and the birth of the struggle for women's rights.

I especially loved the scene featuring locally-famous abolitionist Gerritt Smith set in Peterboro, NY (just minutes from my home). My proximity to Seneca Falls also makes Lucretia Mott and others involved in the women's rights movement seem like local heroes. It's always a thrill for me when they pop up in novels. Other elements I enjoyed were the Quakers and quilting - particularly the "story quilt" as a means for illiterate slaves to share their lives with future generations.

The authors note at the end was much appreciated, and especially enjoyable on audio as it is her own voice. Kidd explains in great detail which parts of the novel are factual and what is imagined. She explains how the novel was born and offers suggestions for further reading.

A note on the audio production:

The beginning of the The Invention of Wings marked a strange audio first for me. Most of you know I love audiobooks and find many narrator's voices to be immediately recognizable, yet I have never "heard" a character from another novel before. This time I was initially puzzled to hear Skeeter from The Help (an all-time favorite audio) and wondered what she was doing here. It took several minutes for me to erase Skeeter and begin to hear Sarah Grimke.

Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye are both outstanding as they give voice to Sarah and Hetty. Lamia, of course, is an old favorite from The Help, but Oduye is a new and promising voice. Listening to these two very talented women added another dimension to the story.

Bottom line:
 I highly recommend listening to this novel. It is easily one of my favorite audiobooks of the year.

My rating:

30 comments:

  1. I really liked this book too. I found Sarah Grimke to be absolutely fascinating and was thrilled to learn she was an actual person. I'm glad Kidd decided to bring her to life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - So am I, and may just take a few of the author's suggestions for further reading.

      Delete
  2. I think I saw the audio version of this at my library. I'll definitely have to pick it up. I love when there are real characters in my historical fiction even though it always sends me into a research session! I've been meaning to read this book for awhile and I think an audio version would be the perfect way to do this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katherine - Oh, yes - definitely listen to this book! The narrators bo do a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life.

      Delete
  3. I really want to read this one. I keep seeing great reviews.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Melissa - I've read all of her books and think this is the best yet!

      Delete
  4. I loved this book. I enjoyed reading your great review JoAnn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pat - I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. I'm sure the audio added to my enjoyment.

      Delete
  5. I've got the audio, just haven't loaded it yet. Dare I say I've got too many audios and not enough time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sandy - You and me both! My audio time has dropped to almost zero this summer :-(

      Delete
  6. I keep thinking I won't like this one for some reason, but I just need to shut up and try it. You make it sound so good!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Andi - I really didn't expect it to be so good.... a pleasant surprise for sure!

      Delete
  7. I'm reading Daisy Goodwin's new novel The Fortune Hunter, where most of the characters are based on real people. I Googled some of them soon after I started reading, so that gave away some of the events, but it's definitely fun to see what she's doing with real people as well as just being an entertaining read.

    I've never read this author...you've sold me (on listening!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Audrey - I've read her other novels and think this is, by far, the best. Listening is definitely the way to go!

      Delete
  8. I didn't know this was based on real people, but I would love to read this, as I enjoyed studying the women's rights movements and the abolitionist movement in sociology when I took college courses again a few years ago. Thanks for sharing an excellent review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rita - Both the women's rights movement and the abolitionist movement are fascinating to me... I never realized women's rights had roots with the abolitionists. This was an excellent story!

      Delete
  9. I just didn't think this would appeal to me, so haven't tried it -- I must rethink this. (I actually felt the same way about The Signature of All Things and loved that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane - Now that you mention it, my feeling about this book very closely mirror how I felt about The Signature of All Things. Wasn't sure I'd like either one of them and then very glad to have gone the audio route. Ended up thinking both were excellent.

      Delete
  10. So happy to know that you liked this! We almost chose it for our next book club selection, but went instead with Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I will be reading this book also thanks to you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sunday - I'm pretty sure you will enjoy The Invention of Wings... and I loved The Secret History! I really need to read The Goldfinch soon.

      Delete
  11. I've wondered whether to read this one or not. Have heard differing view points. Value your opinion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Midlife Roadtripper - Not sure I've ever heard you mention audiobooks before, but if you have a road trip in your future this would be a great choice!

      Delete
  12. Oh my goodness, that's why Sarah Grimke sounded so familiar--she had Skeeter's voice! I totally didn't make that connection.

    Glad you liked the book--I really enjoyed the story quilt stuff myself. Just fascinating. And I appreciated the Southern voice as well. Very cool that the Seneca Falls crowd are part of your neighborhood--what an influential set of people.

    I also really enjoyed hearing the author talk about her journey to writing about the Sisters Grimke. Really enhanced the experience for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JaneGS - That was such a strange experience for me to "hear" Skeeter! I remember so much about her that I had to be careful not to automatically attribute her characteristics to Sarah!

      Kidd's authors note was among the most interesting I've read and hearing her read it to me made it even better.

      Delete
  13. It's also a great book club selection - we had a great discussion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa - I meant to mention that in my review (darn!) and plan to recommend it to my group at our next meeting.

      Delete
  14. I too LOVED this audio!! It is definitely a favorite.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beth F - I will not be surprised to see this on many year-end lists.

      Delete
  15. I have this in hardcover in my TBR pile, but I bet it would be wonderful on audio!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diana - I loved the audio, but am sure it is wonderful in print, too!

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails