The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings, a powerful and sweeping historical novel by Sue Monk Kidd, begins, fittingly, with an image of flight: Hetty “Handful”, who has grown up as a slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, recalls the night her mother told her that her ancestors in Africa could fly over trees and clouds. That day, Handful’s mother, Charlotte, gave her daughter the gift of hope— the possibility that someday she might regain her wings and fly to freedom. Throughout Kidd’s exquisitely written story, Handful struggles, sometimes with quiet dissidence, sometimes with open rebellion, to cultivate a belief in the invincibility of her spirit and in the sacred truth that one does not need actual wings in order to rise. Barely a stone’s throw from the slave quarters where Handful and her mother share a room behind the grand Grimké house, another young woman fights a different battle with the constraints of her society. Sarah Grimké is the middle daughter of a wealthy and prominent family at the pinnacle of Charleston’s social hierarchy—the daughter her mother calls difficult and her father calls remarkable. From the time of her first violent childhood confrontation with slavery, Sarah is unable to abide the oppression and brutality of the slave system that surrounds her. Ambitious and keenly intelligent, she harbors an intense longing to have a voice in the world and to follow her father and brothers’ footsteps to a profession in the law. Crushed by the strictures that her family and society impose on women, Sarah forges a tortuous, yet brave path toward abolition and women’s rights—a crusade in which she will be joined by her fiery sister Angelina. The story begins on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when ten-year-old Handful is abruptly pulled from the Grimké’s work yard, adorned in lavender ribbons, and presented to Sarah as a gift. Sarah tries in vain to decline, but over time, the two create a bond that will ultimately and dramatically shape their destinies. As their intertwined stories unfold in their own voices, Sarah will eventually break from the only life she knows and go north to become an exile, encountering love and heartbreak, repression and renaissance as she searches for her voice and her place of belonging. Back home, Handful will experience her mother’s mysterious disappearance, finding strength and answers in the story quilt she leaves behind. When Denmark Vesey, a free black man with messianic charisma, plots a dangerous slave insurrection in the heart of Charleston, Handful becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens to shake the city to its foundations. Inspired by actual historical figures like Sarah and Angelina Grimké and Denmark Vesey, and enlivened by original creations like Charlotte and Handful, The Invention of Wings is the extraordinary story of two struggles for freedom: the battle of Handful to find the wings her mother promised and the equally intense quest of Sarah to liberate her mind and spirit. This triumphant novel also speaks with wisdom about the nature of evil and injustice, the courage to dare what seems unattainable, and the hope inside of us that the worst darkness can’t extinguish.

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  • Larry M.

    Very good novel and discussion. Smart assertive members.

    June 9, 2014

  • JoAnne

    Sorry I won't be able to make it after all. I really wanted to hear what everyone thought about this one.

    June 7, 2014

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Rafaël

We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

Rafaël, started French Conversation Group

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