Well written and beautifully engaging, The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, is just as good as (if not better than) her more widely known novel, The Secret Life of Bees.
The Invention of Wings provides readers the opportunity to learn more about two great American white women whose contributions to the abolition and racial-equality movements have often— if not always— been overlooked. Sisters Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké, the novel’s protagonists, made significant contributions to these movements and have not been given the praise and honor they deserve. This lack of accolades has in large part been a result of their gender. Despite their privilege as daughters of a wealthy and respected white plantation owner from the south, their names have been largely lost to history. Thanks to writers, historians and social justice workers who, like Kidd, believe their stories should be told, it is possible that this might soon change.
In addition to telling the stories of the Grimké sisters in a manner that takes significant liberties with their histories (while still honoring solid fact), The Invention of Wings acknowledges the history of the slaves whose lives the Grimké sisters were working to improve. The book does this mainly through the incorporation of another protagonist, a black woman whose first-person accounts alternate with those of the fictionalized Sarah Grimké. Sarah’s characterization is based on the fact that the historical Sarah Grimké was offered a young slave named Hetty for her 11th birthday.
Hetty, or Handful (as she prefers to be called), was given the former name by the slave-owner onto whose lands she was born, and the latter name by her mother. Through her, Kidd tells a story that does not shy away from the horrors of slavery. Her sections infuse the writing with even more beauty, despair, character and perspective. Though it does feel a bit strange for Kidd, a white woman, to tell the story of a black person through first-person narration, Kidd does a beautiful job telling a difficult, racially-sensitive story while respecting its origins.
The Invention of Wings is a breathtaking piece of fiction tied together with actual history that you may find yourself reading almost without breathing. Kidd is doubtless a literary master, and this work is one of her finest.