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.” ~ Goodreads
As my first review of the year, I was excited to read Sue Monk Kidd’s newest book to be released on
January 7, 2014.
The synopsis above pretty much sums up what the story is about. But what is not stated is the unbelievable strength in Kidd’s storytelling. I am always impressed and blown away by the accuracy in the tone and language that authors use when writing a historical fiction novel. You feel as if you are there to witness the time period of the 1800s where women didn’t have a voice and such disgusting behavior is displayed toward the African American slaves of the time. On that note, there are many disturbing scenes involving violence and torture, which were very difficult for me to read, but I guess necessary in the portrayal of that time in history. The descriptive elements that Kidd uses to bring the reader into the story are present like all of her work:
“For a moment, I stood just inside the room listening to the saber-fronds on the palmettos clatter around the house. The eaves of the piazza hissed. The porch swing groaned in its chains.”
Mostly, I loved Handful and Sarah’s resilience as they navigate their friendship and lack of freedom. Their relationship wasn’t romanticized or given a sugary tone, which I believe also make the story that much more believable.
I knew going in that this was based on Sarah Moore Grimke, the American abolitionist, writer and suffragist, which makes the story even more compelling and riveting. The fact that women like her (even as a child) stood up at that time for what they believed in stirs something inside a reader. You wonder if you would have been that brave and outspoken or would have turned a blind eye because what you were going up against was arduous, grueling and felt unobtainable.
“Everyone thought I was a plucky girl, but in truth, I wasn’t as fearless as everyone assumed. I had the temperament of a tortoise. Whatever dread, fright, or bump appeared in my path, I wanted nothing more than to drop in my tracks and hide. If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.” ~>LOVE THAT!!
I noticed that the cover of this novel was picked up by Oprah’s 2.0 book club and is pretty telling that this will be on many book clubs’ reading list as well as probably optioned for a movie at some point.
Regardless of the different life paths that Handful and Sarah were on and the circumstances that they were born into, they both had one goal in common: freedom.
One last quote…I promise:
“For a women to aspire to be a lawyer – well, possibly, the world would end. But an acorn grew in an oak tree, didn’t it?”
*Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for this ARC. I was not compensated or required to review this novel.