Thursday, January 9, 2014

An heiress and her slave in Charleston, circa 1800.

(Viking/Penguin offered me The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, an Oprah book club selection for review)

I grew up in Washington, D.C. still very much a southern town in my early childhood.  I remember accompanying my beloved Corinne Griffith (who worked for my family) to her segregated part of the beach because I preferred her company. Even then as a tiny girl, I felt the risk of defying convention. I brought those memories with me to read this story of Sarah and Hetty - an heiress and her slave in the city of Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1800’s.

The book is an expertly researched fictionalized version of the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina, who rebuffed their upbringing and religion to become notorious as the first female abolitionists speaking and writing in favor of liberty and equality not only for slaves but for women.

Where the novel diverges from the true story is, for me, it’s heart.  Here the story is of two girls and two families.  Sarah’s family, powerful and wealthy withdraw any support for her realization and ridicule her ambitions. Hetty’s mother, with neither power or funds to support her, instills a grim strength in Hetty to never succumb to captivity or part with one iota of herself.

This is an emotional book filled with symbols and spirits and outcomes that make the reader weep. Ms. Kidd shows us what has to be the truth of owning another human being - the fear of losing the power leaches all humanity out of the owners and allows them to rule with blind cruelty. 

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