Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Invention of Wings

I love Sue Monk Kidd's writing. She writes with such clarity and purpose that you can't help but get swept up by the tidal wave of her imagination. The Invention of Wings is her latest triumph. This is a story of women and their extraordinary capacity for courage, and it blew me right out of the water. Every word is in the right place. It's an astonishing piece of work, peopled with a diverse group of women so real and so memorable that they've all crept under my skin and it is them that I am thinking about today every time my mind starts its incessant wandering.

When you were a child, did you want to change the world? I did. So badly. I wanted to right all the wrongs, fix all the problems, stop all the injustices, champion the underdog…. As I got older, this seemed such an insurmountable task that I think part of me just gave up and tried to do the best I could within my own life, but this book brought all that zeal zooming right back into my heart. It made me ask questions like, "What am I doing with my life? What contribution am I here to make?" And I am listening out for that inner voice again, which has grown wiser with age, to guide me.

The book is set in the Deep South during the early 1800s and shines its light on Sarah, the daughter of a wealthy Charlestonian, and Hetty, the slave girl she is given for her 11th birthday. Sarah does not believe in slavery, but is bound by the conventions of her time. The girls are therefore bound to each other and the bond they develop will influence them both deeply throughout their lives. They must each decide how to respond to their powerlessness and find their own place in the world as they grow into women.

At one point in the story, Hetty says to Sarah, "My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you its the other way round." It neatly sums up the way Sue Monk Kidd has woven together their plights. While slaves were subjected to unimaginable cruelty and deprived of all freedoms, women's freedoms were also curtailed at that time: their right to work, vote, own property, have a voice…. The Invention of Wings is, in fact, based on the true story of Sarah Grimk√©, who, along with her sister Angelina, became the first female abolitionist in America, and the first to speak out publicly about equality for both women and slaves. It reminded me that one person, one brave act, really can change the world.

Books change us too. When Sue Monk Kidd sits down and answers her own calling to put words on the page, her truth goes out into the world and touches the hearts of everyone who reads her stories. Some books become part of your story when you read them. This is one of them.

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