I love this book. It is by far the best Sue Monk Kidd to date. It is too bad the book will not available until January 2014 for it would have made a wonderful Christmas gift for all the avid readers on anyone’s list.
The blurb for the book almost prevented me reading the book….women, free and slave, in pre-Civil War Charleston. My first thought was ‘oh boy, here we go again with this story.’ But, wow! What a refreshing, riveting story it turned out to be! Then came the icing on the cake; I read the author’s notes at the end of the book. It is based upon a true story; real family, real sisters, real situations, factual history. That took the wonderful story and lifted it even higher.
There are initially two main characters, Sarah Grimke and Handful (Hetty) Grimke, with a strong third character (Sarah’s sister) coming in late in the book. For her 11th birthday Sarah is given Handful as her personal slave. Sarah immediately renounces the gift and the idea of owning another person. Nevertheless, the times and society, along with her Mother, demand that she take Handful as her own. From there grows a bond, a friendship as much as possible, and a fierce caring for each other.
As this relationship grows, so does Sarah’s commitment to fighting slavery and fighting for women’s rights. It isn't easy in the early 1800’s in upper class Charleston, but Sarah has a toughness that even she didn't know she had. As everything unfolds Sarah realizes that Handful is enslaved by the law, and that she. Sarah, is enslaved by society and her family. As life hands her one setback after another, Sarah’s toughness upholds her and finally guides her to make one final attempt at freeing Handful and one final break with her family and Southern society.
Abolitionist history, suffragette history, and black history are expertly woven throughout the story. The Charleston Grimkes are real, and their adherence to Charleston society and Southern ways are well documented as is the split that tears apart their family. We meet historical characters such as Denmark Vesey. How many of us remember reading and chanting the poem about him banging on our desks to make the boom, boom, boom, bang, bang, bang of the drums? I remember it all these years later.
Likewise, I was familiar with Virginia Hamilton’s “The People Could Fly” which retells old slave tales including the one from Africa about their people flying. This idea of the slaves once having wings and being able to fly provides a strong thread in the slave community in this book. Quilts, also, which were important in the lives of slaves, are equally important in this book.
This wonderful story is told in vivid descriptive terms that helps one see the event, person, or place being described. It is a joy to read. Part I, (the book is divided into four parts), is especially poetic in the author’s choice of imagery.
The book has spoiled me. My bedside table, desk, and Kindle are all heavy with unread books, but I need a few day between the beauty I have just experienced and what might be mundane in some of those waiting works. I don’t want to lose Sarah and Handful, and Sue Monk Kidd just yet.