Published by Viking on January 17, 2014
Genres: Historical, Social Issues
Source: Owned Audible Book
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women
Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.
Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
Book selections like this is why I started The Midnight Book Club in the first place. Sarah picked this book by Sue Monk Kidd because she had loved The Secret Life of Bees so much. I ended up liking this book even more than TSLoB.
Based on the true story of the Grimke sisters, whom I’m ashamed to admit I had not hear of before reading The Invention of Wings, in particular older sister Sarah Grimke’s story. The book alternates between Sarah’s pov and that of the Grimke’s slave, Handful, whom Sarah’s mother gifts to her daughter on her birthday.
Both women struggle as they grow up against the restraints of the time they live in. Handful is fighting just to have basic human rights- to not be owned, beaten and bred. Sarah is desperate to be heard, to have woman treated equally, to abolish slavery. While I loved both women’s narratives, I think the two different perspectives were needed. Sarah Grimke’s tale is of a white woman fighting to be allowed to have opinions and thoughts, and wanting people to be treated equally, and but it is Handful who helps to spark the fight against injustice in her. While I loved hearing about the Grimke sisters early fight for women’s rights, it was often Handful’s story that I was most involved with, because her circumstances were even more limiting than Sarah’s.
The two women are both strong characters, although Sarah’s strength is easily dismissed by those around her due to her stutter. Both Sarah and Handful break the rules of the society they’ve been brought up in, and neither keep silent. In a time where so many women were defined by their circumstances of birth, both women seek to make their own destiny.
The book club loves this book, and it made for one of our best discussions of the year. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short time. And how much further we need to go. We found this book inspiring.
It’s rare for me to recommend an Oprah Book Club Read, but this book is literally for everyone. In order to appreciate all we have, we need to read about the struggles of those that came before. To remind ourselves to be brave and to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s not popular or appreciated. You know how when you read a book and you think to yourself, wow, if everyone in the world just read this book then maybe we’d all finally be better people and that the world would be a better place? Well, for me, this is one of those books.
Absolutely a great book club read!