From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a #1 New York Times bestselling 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.
My Review – 4.5 stars:
Why did I wait so long to read this book? Once again, Sue Monk Kidd’s lovely prose is like no other. She has an interesting way of telling a story and bringing all the fine details together. The parallel yet intertwined stories of Sarah and Hetty were captivating.
Sarah had limitations imposed upon her from a young age. She wanted to be a lawyer just like her father yet could not pursue her dreams since she was a woman. I enjoyed the relationship she had with her father and her brother, Thomas, but I found myself a bit irritated over their cowardice.
Sarah and her sister, Nina, were anything but cowards. I have never been a history buff but enjoy learning about it through a fictional story. I was happy to hear Sarah and Angelina Grimke were true abolitionist women but disappointed that I had never heard of them until I read this book.
Hetty had limitations imposed on her from a young age since she was a third generation slave. I enjoyed the relationship she had with her mother, Charlotte, and the strength and perseverance she learned from her. Her life was similar to Sarah’s in that she had no freedom to pursue her dream which was as simple as being free to live her OWN life.
“To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil.”
“If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.”
“My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it’s the other way round.”
“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you should know where you came from.”
“You got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”
“How could I choose someone who would force me to give up my own small reach for meaning? I chose myself, and without consolation.”
“She was braver than I, she always had been. I cared too much for the opinions of others, she cared not a whit. I was cautious, she was brash. I was a thinker, she was a doer. I kindled fires, she spread them. And right then and ever after, I saw how cunning the Fates had been. Nina was one wing, I was the other.
Sue Monk Kidd did a great job portraying the evils and reality of slavery so this book had many sections that were painful to read. At the same time, it was a well knit story with rich character development so well worth the emotional turmoil. I would highly recommend it.