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Literary Friday: The Invention of Wings

Friday, April 11, 2014

This week I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  It's our St. Stephen's Episcopal Church's  Book Club's selection for April.  The book was chosen for Oprah's Book Club, and I couldn't wait to read it because I *love* The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair.  Oprah's Harpo Studios owns the movie rights, and I'm sure Oprah's company will produce a wonderful film adaptation.

This book is historical fiction, and in Kidd's author's notes she explains how she was looking for two sisters to write about when she discovered Sarah and Nina Grimké at The Dinner Party at the Brooklyn  Museum in 2007.  Judy Chicago's artistic rendering of a banquet table complete with place settings honoring 39 female guests of honor is displayed over a porcelain tile floor inscribed with the names of 999 other outstanding women who've contributed to history.  On these tiles, Kidd read the names of Sarah and Nina Grimké. She was stunned that these outstanding women were from Charleston, her hometown.  How could it be possible that she'd never heard of them before?

The Grimké sisters grew-up on a plantation close to Charleston.  The family also had a town house in the city with many field and house slaves.  Both women left their church, family, and beloved city to travel north to Philadephia to become Quakers and outspoken leaders in the abolitionist movement.  But when the two increasingly speak out about women's suffrage, the Quakers expel them, and many in the abolitionist movement shun them for dividing the abolitionists.

The Invention of Wings is told from alternating points of view between Sarah and her personal slave, Hettie "Handful" Grimké.  Sarah is given Handful as a present on her eleventh birthday.  Sarah's rebellion starts early: she teaches Handful how to read and write.  Both girls are punished for breaking the law, and there isn't much more information in history about Handful after other than her death from an illness.  Most of her story and her history is fabricated in the book, but I enjoyed reading the story from her point of view very much. I can only imagine how many other slaves must have had similar thoughts and feelings.

Sarah's biggest issue in life isn't her flaming red hair, but that she was born extremely smart and has ambitions beyond her station in life.  It must be bitter watching her older brothers experience college and law school (her dream) and having access to her father's library taken away.  During a time when finishing school and marriage was the best option for young women, Sarah chooses to remain single to pursue her dreams.

It's harder for me to relate to Sarah's plight than Handful's.  I think the abolitionists had a good point in that they needed to focus on one issue at a time.  Although I do see Sarah's point in that women could be in a better position to push the abolitionist cause if they had equal voting rights.

Most of the plot centers around the Charleston home of the Grimkés with their many children, harsh mother, and various house slaves.  Handful's mother, Charlotte, is an interesting character, and her story was remarkable and tragic.  Charlotte makes Sarah promise to help free Handful when she was just a young girl, and she believes that teaching her to read will fulfill that promise.

As tragic as slavery was in our history, another tragedy has occurred: women who have made a difference…those who have made it possible for us to achieve our dreams, fade from history.  Why is that?  My hope is that there will be more women history writers to preserve the stories of remarkable women who've risked their reputations, social status, and security to make a difference for us all.

NOTE:  Oprah’s Interview with Sue Monk Kidd

The television interview airs on “Super Soul Sunday,” Sunday, April 13, 11 a.m. ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

Literary Friday

Are you in a book club?  If so, what are y'all reading?

Until next time…

Ricki Jill


  1. This sounds like a wonderful book, Ricki Jill. I can't wait to read it. xo Laura

  2. I would love to read this this author! Enjoy your weekend my friend! Happy reading! Hugs!

  3. Secret Life of Bees is one of my favorite books and I enjoyed The Mermaid Chair so I know I will love Invention of Wings - thanks.

  4. I loved 'Secret Life of Bees'-we're just about to pick our next book for book club and I'm going to out this one on the table.

  5. Sue Monk Kidd is an author I haven't read yet. This is tempting, thanks for the review.

  6. I have read The Secret Life of Bees and loved it so I will have to add this one to my list.

  7. I read this a couple of months ago as soon as I could get my hands on it -- and loved it. Great review.

  8. I am GOING TO READ this book! I loved The Mermaid Chair, too! xo Diana

  9. Hmmmmm....might have t add this to the list! (or at least get it for my mother, and then I'll get around to it)

  10. Oh this is sounding like a must read. I love the fact that you provide me with all these titles and then I just go shopping. :)

  11. So true! I was blown away when I went to the Museum of Flight and discovered there was an entire regiment of elite female pilots (Russian) in WWII who would basically dive bomb German troops in the middle of the night (nicknamed the Night Witches by the German troops). Why did I never learn about this in history?? I guess because when things are taught and rewritten, the victors want to only highlight those in the past who are like them, to further their own position as "traditional", thus women and minorities (and the history of other cultures) gets shoved into the margins. :(
    Thank goodness for writers who are willing to research and write well and drag them back into the light!

  12. I LOVED "The Secret Life of Bees" and liked "The Mermaid Chair" too.
    I usually don't go by Oprah's book club. She's had a few I didn't like and one that I absolutely HATED. So, nope. I don't go by her picks anymore.
    I listen to books from the library on my drive to and from work and I was listening to this one and stopped. Now because it wasn't good but I needed something happier at that moment.
    I will listen to it again, when I'm in a better frame of mind.
    :) :) :)

  13. Oh! Sounds wonderful. Thanks for the great review. :)

    AND for hosting!
    Enjoy the rest of your weekend. :)

  14. I read this book about about two months ago. I love historical fiction and Sue Monk Kidd.

  15. This sounds like a great read. I think I might have it on my to-read shelf, because I know I just have to read it!

  16. This sounds like a good book to add to my “must read”. Great book review RJ.
    We are beginning our week with some thunderstorms here. I’m sure you’ll be getting them soon.
    Sending you an email.............


  17. This books sounds wonderful. I'm glad I splurged and bought it! One of my favorite blogs is History of American Women. She highlights known and little known women who made an impact on our country!


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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