Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Headline Fiction RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Cover of Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddThought-provoking and compassionate, The Invention of Wings is a powerful novel of friendship set against a background of slavery, abolition and religion. By chance I followed this book up with the movie 12 Years a Slave, making for an eye-opening, educational weekend that left me pondering how humans could treat each other so badly. The Invention of Wings was inspired by real-life events and two sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who made important contributions to the history of America’s troubled Deep South.

At 11, Sarah Grimke (the ‘difficult’ middle daughter) is given a birthday gift – a young slave girl, removed from her mother and wrapped in lavender ribbons. Hetty, or ‘Handful’ as she is known, is to be Sarah’s waiting maid, but despite growing up in a family in which slavery is a given and a right, Sarah does not agree that ‘owning people’ is ‘as natural as breathing’, and she rejects the gift. Told that the guardianship is legal and binding, Sarah resolves to find a way to free Hetty from slavery. This childhood promise turns out to be a lifelong journey for Sarah and her younger sister, Angelina, that involves rejecting their inherited way of life in favour of values they believe reflect goodness, fairness and equality among race and gender.

Before she even knew what the word meant, Sarah was an abolitionist at heart; she was not blind to the cruelty inflicted on slaves and, unlike her family and peers, could not accept that this was anything but evil. As a young adult, she takes on an active role as an abolitionist, which earns the ire of those in the Deep South, but also challenges her counterparts because she is a woman. Not only does she fight against the evils of slavery, but she also fights against deeply ingrained ideas of women’s roles (as does Angelina). Her story is inspiring and courageous; her voice bold and passionate.

The slaves’ voice is heard through Hetty as she moves through childhood and into adulthood, hoping against hope for change, but filled with hurt and anger as cruelty reigns. Her story made me ache with sadness, while Sarah’s made me believe in hope. The two women’s voices share a common note of wanting things to be different, but the path they have to take to experience this freedom is vastly different.

The Invention of Wings is a book of contrasts, from the values in the North and South, to the lifestyles of the slaves versus their owners, and even the way Christianity is used to guide beliefs on slavery. In examining slavery, Monk Kidd also examines how freedom can also enslave, as is shown through Sarah’s experiences. Sarah may have been free, as in, not a slave, but she was trapped by her society’s beliefs about slavery, and by wider society’s expectations of her as a female. Sue Monk-Kidd has delivered a memorable, evocative story that left me thinking long after the tale was told about a number of the issues raised. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that leaves them pondering how far we’ve come.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: A neenish tart (it has icing on the top in two colours) seemed appropriate (although I’d have to stop at one as they really are sweet).



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

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