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The Invention of Wings

March 18, 2014

I am a little astounded that there are already 1,771 reviews of The Invention of Wings on Amazon and it was only published two months ago. Apparently the Kindle edition has notes by Oprah Winfrey, which most readers don’t seem to appreciate all that much. I bought a lovely hard back edition and enjoyed the book thoroughly. I see people reading this book everywhere I go.

Last month, while driving through upstate NY, I suddenly realized that we were in Seneca Falls, and the name sounded familiar but not immediately recognizable. We soon came to the Women’s Rights Museum and enjoyed an afternoon of education and interest. The area has the look and feel of the 19th century, houses with heavy gingerbread trim, and the Erie canal running through. It was an area of Quaker settlement at the time of the women’s rights convention in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who wrote The Women’s Bible, lived down the street. At the museum I bought The Ladies of Seneca Falls by Miriam Gurko and it was a couple of weeks later that I saw The Invention of Wings in a bookstore and had to have it. It tells the story of two earlier feminists, Sarah and Angelina Grimké.

I found the story of the Grimké sisters compelling on many fronts. They were raised in a wealthy slave-holding family in South Carolina. From an early age they were both deeply repelled by the cruelty of slavery as practiced on their own property and around them. They were both deeply religious, but moved from church to church seeking a way to express their revulsion of slavery and wishing, against their parents’ will, to contribute in some way to end it. After their father died, Sarah Grimké travelled in the north and became a Quaker. When she went back to South Carolina dressed as a Quaker, she was shouted down in the street and unable to live in peace and safety. Both sisters moved to the north where they wrote and spoke against slavery.

These sisters lived in the early 19th century, and Angelina Grimké the first woman on record to address a legislative body. These women are typical of many early feminists. They were heart broken and deeply touched by the plight of the slaves they saw around them, and, when wishing to address the public about this, they met many roadblocks since they were women. These were the early feminists.

Sue Monk Kidd does a great job of bringing this story to the attention of a broad audience. While she stays close to the facts in the narrative of the sisters, she also recounts a more fictional narrative about the slaves who lived in their household. I have read a few of Sue Monk Kidd’s books, but this one really stands out for me. I had to continue researching and reading about the Grimké sisters and their deep faith and theological reflection to get some idea of the the depth of their study and the legacy they left.

This theme has been rounded out for me by also reading 12 Years a Slave, The Spymistress, and curiously, 419, a recent Canadian novel. If you like offbeat and informative books, this is a good one. It takes place in Calgary, Alberta, and in Nigeria. I also just finished Transmission by Hari Kunzru, quirky but satisfying if you are interested in code and Bollywood movies, both of which I have at least a fleeting interest in.

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