The Invention of Wings
By Sue Monk Kidd
$32.95 Viking Publishing
Here is a wonderful book by the author of The Secret Life of Bees.
Set in the years 1803 to 1838, in the south, this is a story based on the lives of Sarah and Nina Grimke, who were early abolitionists. Readers who enjoyed The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill will find this a good addition to the genre.
Hettie is a child slave of the Grimke family, a charming and fanciful girl with a clear understanding that she is not free. Hettie’s “basket” name is “Handful,” a name given to her by her mother, after consideration of their circumstances and the fiesty nature of her baby.
When Sarah Grimke had her 11th birthday, her mother gifted her with the 10-year-old Hettie to be her slave and personal maid.
Sarah had been traumatized at the age of four when she witnessed the whipping of a young female slave.
The shock caused her to run in horror from the scene, and left her with a stutter and a repugnance for owning black people.
In time, Hettie and Sarah become friends, and though it’s against the law, Sarah teaches Hettie to read and write. It is a skill that will eventually save her life.
The Grimke household is a large one. Sarah’s father is a judge on South Carolina’s highest court, and a plantation owner.
He and his wife Mary have a family of 10 children, six boys and four girls.
Mary rules in the house and in the lives of the 14 slaves owned by the judge.
Charlotte is Hetty’s mother and seamstress for Mrs. Grimke.
She is a valuable slave but her wish for freedom never leaves her thoughts.
She asks Sarah to “hep Hetty get free,” and Sarah promises.
The author covers many aspects of slave ownership and refers to historical documents of slave punishment.
Though the Grimkes were more considerate of their slaves than many owners, if something went missing and a slave was found responsible, the lash was used.
The work house was a punishment greatly feared by the slaves. By law, a slave was three-fifths of a person.
Charlotte, while shopping in town for her mistress, antagonizes a white lady and is hauled away by the constabulary. No one knows where she is and she can’t be found.
Eventually, first Sarah and then Nina venture to the northern states, they embraced the Quaker religion and become both famous and infamous for their message against slavery and for women’s rights.
When Hettie was a little girl her mother, Charlotte, told her a tale.
It was about the time when the people of Africa could fly.
“They flew over the trees and the clouds … they flew like blackbirds.” She patted her shoulder blades and said, “This all what left of your wings, but one day you gonna get ’em back.”
When the opportunity comes, Hettie is ready and she flies away to freedom.
This is a very satisfying book.
Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.