Taking Flight: A [Brief] Book Review

I finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings a few days ago, but have been pondering the origin of this novel’s concept for a little while to settle everything going on in my mind regarding it. Famous for her previous literary work, The Secret Life of Bees, which takes place in the segregated south of US history’s oppressive past, Invention takes place in the antebellum south—a period in history pertaining to slavery and the discrimination of black Americans. Being her two most notable literary works to date, I’ve been questioning if these eras are a fascination of sorts for her, and if so, why? I have a fascination for wondering why white people write fictions, historical or otherwise, about slavery and the Jim Crow South, especially when they take it upon themselves to write in a fictional oppressed black American’s voice (another example is Kathryn Stockett’s world-famous The Help). I try not to get impulsively angry or immediately dismiss what the writer is trying to portray, as I am quite curious to see how they view their past and how they think black people view that same past. So I read her notes and researched Sue Monk Kidd the person, in order to get a better understanding of her and how she conceptualized her topics. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely loved The Secret Life of Bees (I even enjoyed the movie), so much so that over the past few years, I’ve read every other book and story Kidd has written, and enjoyed them all; otherwise, I would have never continued reading her work and then excitedly purchase The Invention of Wings, and I’m so happy that I did. Not only did I learn about how/why the book was written, I also learned more US history that was completely left out during my schooling. (Read her Author’s Note to understand the origin of this book and you might be as inspired to read more into the Grimké sisters, the abolitionist movement and the fight for women’s rights.)

Invention of wings

Taking place from the early to mid 1800s, Kidd takes us into the world of historical figure Sarah Grimké and her waiting made (slave girl) Hetty/Handful, as they find their voices, their wings. To give you an idea of what most readers have felt upon reading this book, below is amazon.com’s description:

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.

I think anyone who reads this tale will be able to self-identify. All of the characters were rich with life and color, making it very easy to latch onto them; their spirits were so palpable and thought-provoking that, upon reading and re-reading certain passages, I found myself questioning whether or not I have truly found my voice and purpose. Who hasn’t struggled to find his/her purpose, voice, individuality? For the fortunate, the struggle is short; for others, it never ends. To know one’s purpose in life is hard enough; thinking of these two women who were fettered by the chains of the times in which they lived, their struggles were all the more remarkable. Yes, this novel is about loss and love, friendship, family, history, and strife; however, it is also about hope, power and empowerment, mental freedom, and finding one’s voice.

The bird does not place its trust in the branch, but on its wings…

I See the Light

Forgive the corny titles I subject you to on a regular basis; I can’t help myself.

I spent a late night/early morning finishing Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and upon reading the last page, I felt like this author’s words made a light within me burn brighter. I didn’t sleep a wink as my mind wouldn’t let go of the characters, the imagery, the intricacies of the story that made this book so precious. I found myself highlighting so many passages that I wanted to commit to memory, so thought-provoking and emotive they were as to leave me referring back to them even before I finished reading this book in its entirety. All the Light We Cannot See is a work of art.

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.
It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”

All-the-Light-We-Cannot-See

Chosen as an Amazon.com book of the month for May 2014, the site’s review is:

Does the world need yet another novel about WWII? It does when the novel is as inventive and beautiful as this one by Anthony Doerr. In fact, All the Light We Cannot See–while set mostly in Germany and France before and during the war–is not really a “war novel.” Yes, there is fear and fighting and disappearance and death, but the author’s focus is on the interior lives of his two characters. Marie Laure is a blind 14-year-old French girl who flees to the countryside when her father disappears from Nazi-occupied Paris. Werner is a gadget-obsessed German orphan whose skills admit him to a brutal branch of Hitler Youth. Never mind that their paths don’t cross until very late in the novel, this is not a book you read for plot (although there is a wonderful, mysterious subplot about a stolen gem). This is a book you read for the beauty of Doerr’s writing– “Abyss in her gut, desert in her throat, Marie-Laure takes one of the cans of food…”–and for the way he understands and cherishes the magical obsessions of childhood. Marie Laure and Werner are never quaint or twee. Instead they are powerful examples of the way average people in trying times must decide daily between morality and survival. –Sara Nelson

The same thought crossed my mind before I made the purchase: do I really want to read another WWII story? However the synopsis and reviews convinced me to go through with it. Thank the literary gods that I did! This has easily become one of my best reads of the year for the way Anthony Doerr’s vision has burned these words, characters and feelings into my brain and heart.

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Spoken in French over a transistor radio with Claire de Lune playing in the background? Magical.

Hard of Hearing

I’ve been on a reading binge a of late, sacrificing hours of YouTube watching and my DVR’d shows are collecting dust in my queue. However I’ve been rewarded with some really good literary escapes, another of which I will briefly share with you, as I have another book on deck of which I’m itching to delve.

Not even five minutes ago, I finished reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by German author Jan-Phillipp Sendker.

AHH Cover

A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

Once again, the synopsis made me cringe, due to how sticky-sweet and corny it sounded. I decided to give it a try anyway because I enjoy writers from other countries, I like reading of tales set in lands other than my own from time to time, and I also feel that non-native English speakers use the English language quite differently and are able to express themselves in unexpected, yet greatly welcomed, ways–their perspectives on universal experiences, truths, emotions come to life differently on the page and on the screen, and I love it (usually, but definitely not always).

Beautifully worded, this book attempted to tackle the subjects of familial and romantic loves in a somewhat fantastical way. Unfortunately my heart was slightly more detached than I would have liked and thus caused my enthusiasm to wane over the past few days. The story was good, the characters were even better, however I just feel (even now as I write this) that something just didn’t quite hit the high note–especially for the fact that the author never addressed his love, or possible lack thereof, for his children, namely his daughter Julia who made the physical and emotional journey to uncover her father’s mysteries. Disappointing. The bones of all the characters were strong, as was the premise of the story; however, for all the talk of hearing heartbeats, mine was just a murmur.

On to the next tome.

Me After This Book

I literally just finished reading a book and felt compelled to share something brief about it. Brief because 1) I’m not feeling well and just want to imbibe some major cold/sleep aids and then cuddle in my bed and 2) my eyes are still welling with emotional tears, the result of a damn good read.

Me Before You

(No, you can’t look inside–it’s just a screen grab of the book cover.)

Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You: A Novel, is one of the better love stories I’ve read in a long while. Unique story, emotionally flawed and downright raw characters, unapologetic and unpretentious (I’m having a lot of issues with pretentiousness these days) writing, this book is high on my list for 2014.

Here’s a synopsis [that I didn’t write] that sounds cornier than it should and might lead you away from the book, but trust me, it’s fantastic:

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

With this book, Jojo Moyes has made an icicle melt from my heart…albeit slightly. (I mean, seriously.I can’t lose my insouciant edge–I wouldn’t be me without it!)

Ok, later people. Back to cuddling up with my pillows and Netflix…and maybe another good book.