Some books make you feel the author was having a great time writing them. Other books are ponderous and make you feel the author labored mightily to produce them. Then there are the books that exude the passion of the author. Such a book is The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This novel by the author of The Secret Life of Bees fairly bristles with intensity and each and every word in the story is a pulsating form of life upon the pages. This book is a sermon, a treatise, a pamphlet and a novel all wrapped up as one.
Kidd's novel is based on the true story of the Grimke' sisters of Charleston, South Carolina who lived during the 1800s. Sarah, the eldest sister, was presented with a slave girl of her own on her eleventh birthday. The girl's name was Hetty Handful. Sarah knew at that young age slavery was wrong and she tried to refuse this gift but her domineering mother said no.
Handful also knew slavery was wrong and vowed to be free one day. She and Sarah's lives were linked together and the paths they took makes for a strangely beautiful but horrifying story about life in the South and Charleston in particular. The characters of Sarah and her sister Nina, as well as Handful and her mother Charlotte are so well drawn by Kidd that readers will adopt them into their lives.
Kidd obviously feels strongly about her subject matter since she writes with such fire and passion. She not only tackles the issue of slavery and race but also the plight of women and their rights in society. The amazing thing about her skill as a writer is how deftly she integrates her passions into this entertaining and moving story. She makes all of her points and makes them with vehemence, but the narrative always prevails.
A lot of research went into this book. You can tell by the atmosphere recounted in the pages about life in slavery bound Charleston. You smell the aromas; you feel the weather; and you react to the oppressive nature of the citizenry. This is not the South of Gone With the Wind, this is the South of 12 Years a Slave.
Sue Monk Kidd knows her characters, she knows her history, she knows Charleston and she has a passion for it all. This makes The Invention of Wings a very special book. You will know this from page one.
The Invention of Wings is published by Viking. It contains 384 pages and sells for $27.95.