Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd’s wonderful storytelling capabilities show up again in her latest novel, The Invention of Wings. When I started this book I was prepared to enjoy the story, but its structure initially put me off. I’m not a big fan of alternating chapters between one major character and then another with the eventual merging of their stories. Yet, I was won over for many reasons.

The story is based on two real life sisters in the early 1800s who were the first female abolitionist agents despite being born into the Charleston aristocracy. One sister, Sarah Grimké, becomes entwined with Hetty—the fictionalized slave character—who was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. At this tender age, Sarah’s efforts to free her slave have no traction in a male and power dominated culture. In spite of her intellectual capabilities that were nurtured early by her father, she finds out soon enough that intellect has no place in a Southern and well-to-do female’s life. She is devastated by her father’s firm view on this cultural norm. Having had a father who embraced my intellect and encouraged me to ‘go left when everyone else is going right’, I felt Kidd was masterful in describing Sarah’s immense disappointment.

Hetty’s development as a rebel in her own sphere of life goes hand in hand with her owner and is appropriate to her very different station in life. The social structure of how the slave community lived within that of their powerful owners is interesting and remains a powerful reminder of the not-so-long ago times that continue to influence today’s culture.

As the story unfolds, Sarah is joined by her much younger and more outspoken sister, Angelina, in what becomes a lifelong endeavour to abolish slavery. 

The Grimké Sisters

Kidd’s character development and stage-setting is superb. Their personal strengths of character and driven focus to overcome their respective challenges, invites one to feel intense empathy for both the wealthy Sarah and impoverished slave Hetty. I enjoyed the short chapters that meant I could complete a vignette at each bedtime reading.

I suggest you don’t read the author’s remarks at the end of the book until you have read the story. While this background deepened my understanding of the story’s context, not knowing this at the beginning allowed my wonderment to evolve rather than immediately place it in an historical context.

Kidd’s intention was to write about two sisters. This book is a warm testament to sisters by blood and by mission- as they support each other through challenging experiences prompted by culture and mores of their era.

Jennifer Mackie has lived in Guelph for  over 40 years, is a business consultant with never enough hobby time for reading, sports, online puzzles and quilting. With her husband, Carl, they have 2 adult daughters who live in Toronto where she has the newly found joy of reading to their 20 month old grandtwins, Ella and Austin. She reads for entertainment and to discover the world of ‘curious’. Along with finding value in the story, she enjoys experiencing different writer’s styles and methods for how they entice one into their made up worlds.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I LOVE Sue Monk Kidd's writing that sensitively takes the reader into our history of privilege and slavery, prejudices, abolition, and the beginning of the women's rights movement. This is a beautifully written, thought provoking story. I learned quite a bit. There is always a cost for freedom. The stories stayed with me for days. The lessons learned will stay with me for life. Thank you, Ms Kidd!

    Top rated Real Estate Horseshoe Bay