Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Narrator: Jenna Lamia, Adepero Oduye, Sue Monk Kidd
Published: January 2014, Penguin Audio
Length: 13.5 hours
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent 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 thoughts: I had the opportunity to hear Sue Monk Kidd speak the night this book came out. At that point, I had not read her other book, The Secret Life of Bees, so I was unfamiliar with her work. But, as I sat in the auditorium of the Greenwich Library listening to her speak about herself, her reasons for writing this new book, and all the research she put into it, I knew this book was going to be an amazing read and I was definitely not mistaken.
I decided to listen to the audio of this book, after having such a good experience with the audio of The Secret Life of Bees which I picked up shortly after that night with Sue Monk Kidd - and what a great decision. Part of that decision came from the fact that SMK read a few sections of the book that night and while she does not narrate the book herself (she just narrates the author's note at the end) I felt that having the book read to me would really enhance the overall enjoyment of it.
I loved this story, plain and simple. It's a powerful, thought-provoking read about the atrocities of slavery in the South. Focusing on two courageous sisters, who in my opinion should be in the history books, we follow them as they fight to not only abolish slavery but also to gain equality for women's rights.
Blending fact with fiction, SMK gives us this remarkable, at times tough, story of a girl who was given a slave at the age of eleven. Sarah wanted to free that slave but was unable to and basically spent her life trying to find a way to get Handful that freedom, even going so far as to teach Handful to read.
I found myself very inspired by Sarah. She was certainly a spirited girl who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to fight for it. She wanted her freedoms and wasn't going to stand for the social norms of her times. I think that is what caused a lot of the friction between her and her mother - a character I could not stand!
At the end of the book, in the author's note, you find out where SMK got the inspiration for this book. She also goes on to explain where she stayed true to history and where she used fiction to round out the story. This part of the book is just as interesting as the story itself, in my opinion. I love when authors share their inspiration and decisions for why they do what they do.
This is the type of book that stays with you long after you finish reading it. While I did listen to the audio version, I do have a signed copy of the print edition, which I'm glad, because it's definitely a book that I want on my bookshelf.
Audio Thoughts: The narration of this book was beautifully done. It was easy to tell who was narrating each section and both narrators brought the characters to life. Having the author narrate the author's note at the end was a special treat as well.
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