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"Intelligent and thoughtful book…"
I enjoyed this book very much and it has made me want to know more about the real-life individuals who appear in it.
Slavery is a fascinating theme, and very topical at the moment with the success of 12 Years a Slave. This novel is particularly interesting because of the twin narratives of Handful and Sarah and the light this throws on both sides of the question.
Novels where the narrator changes from chapter to chapter don't always work for me, but in this case both characters are so engaging that their stories hold the reader's interest throughout.
Some of the scenes of punishment are very hard to read .. the book is much grittier in that respect than The Last Runaway, for example. And a lot more hard-hitting than The Secret Life of Bees. I enjoyed TSLOB but this is a much better book which will stay with me for a long time. Will be recommending it strongly to friends.Read moreLess
"Sad, interesting, informative, very readable…"
I enjoyed this book, although it was hard to read at times, especially when you find out at the end that it was based on a true story, very interesting.Read moreLess
"Moving and informative..a great read.…"
I enjoyed this book much more than The Secret Life of Bees. I too didn't realise the book was based on real people until the end and wish I had know that at the start.
The charachters are interesting and I missed them when I finished the book-always a good sign! The historical aspect is really interesting and horrifying at the same time. Makes you wonder how this all could have been allowed to happen. I would thoroughly recommend this book and have already passed it on to a friend.Read moreLess
Enlightening and thoroughly absorbing, this novel was an education not only in history, but in human emotion too.
Highly recommended.Read moreLess
When I started the book I wasn't at all sure that I was going to enjoy it, the characters seemed not very believable but as I got further I was completely hooked and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish it hadn't finished and to then realise that it was based on a true story has made me want to read more about the Grimkes and slavery abolition in the southRead moreLess
"Thought provoking and a great read…"
A great read set in the Deep South. Thought provoking and emotional the characters lives are full of joy and heartache. Thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.Read moreLess
"Evocative, deeply distressing and historically meticulous.…"
A justifiably distressing book which is nonetheless richly beautiful in in word and setting.
'An affront to destiny' is the perfect description of the manner in which the two main characters fly in the face of the futures mapped out for them by the society they are born into.
Sarah Grimke and Hetty 'Handful' Grimke respectively the daughter of a slave owner and the slave 'gifted' to her on her eleventh birthday both lack agency by dint of gender and race. Sarah's destiny in 1800's Charleston is to be a wife and mother (and eventual slave owner herself), denied an education and a career in the Law she craves.
Hetty is doomed by the civil and legal mores of the Deep South to have no person hood at all. A slave with no agency whatsoever, yet under the tutelage of her Mother Charlotte, Hetty retains a sense of self unbidden by the cruelty of the system she is born into. She jealousy guards the piece of her mind and spirit she sees as belonging to her Spirit Tree and not to her owners.
Sarah in contrast is so bidden by the society she is born into that her very ability to speak is impaired by a stammer that is ultimately cured only when she develops insight into the prejudice she retains, despite her anti slavery rhetoric. The iron muzzle used to cease the singing of Sky, Hetty's sister has its metaphorical equivalent in her stammer. Sky's singing is also in the Gullah dialect from the sea islands surrounding the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Full of poeticism and dialectically reminiscent of the 'home country', its silencing by such cruel means is especially poignant.
The use of song and craft to tell of injustices, love, pain, belief and heritage is explored and drawn beautifully by Sue Monk Kidd from the real life examples of story quilts by Harriet Power now stored for posterity at the National Museum of American History in DC. The tales these crafted items tell are subversive because there is no doubt that had their owners been able to interpret them, severe punishment may have ensued. However when Mary, one of the Grimke's lays eyes on Charlottes completed story quilt she is stunned by shame at the gruesome pictorial images of barbaric punishments endured. Subconsciously wanting to 'wash her hands' of all moral responsibility- to the point of mimicking lady Macbeth like washing gestures, Mary doesn't see the money hidden in the quilt because she is blinded by shame. Hetty knows that Mary will have the quilt destroyed in order to banish the dissonance such proof of her participation in an inhumane system evokes.
I already knew of the symbolism of many of the images on them including the meaning of the black triangles=Blackbird wings and their metaphorical clipping as African men and women were taken from their home continent and prevented from flying free. The quilt tells HHetty's Mother true story, it also harbours the money she saves. The quilt becomes emblematic not only of where they have come from but where they hope to go - freedom. The symbolism of the quilt being filled with feathers and the flightlessness of the slaves contrasts beautifully with the quilt as harbour and shelter for their flight money. The truth of Charlotte's story of capture and enslavement helps protect them from the ugly reality of consequences had the money been found.
The writing is vivid- The salty sea breezes from the nearby port and harbour. A port which was one of the main places of entry for Slaves and the winds that carry upon them this sea scent allow no respite from the reminder of this. The steamy damp Southern Summers and the tension between their stultifying heat and resultant short tempers permeate the novel as do the smells of a humid climate after a rainfall- bosky earth, the rotting foliage and fecundity.
Hetty's Mother coming to bed after sitting stitching the story quilt under their spirit tree brings the smell of the tree (her life force and connection to ancestral lands) into their bed 'the smell of bark and white mushrooms. Crumbs from the Earth all over the mattress'. We are not allowed to forget where Charlotte and her fellow slaves come from unlike the owners who wish to forget because that is the only way their consciences will lay still.
As Charlotte ages and weakens physically, her refusal to give way, to allow domination of her mind and will both drives and bolsters Hetty's determination to escape to Sarah in the free North. Charlotte sees freedom in death and her Spirit's return to her ancestral lands. Hetty sees it in this life.
Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina existed and Sarah's treatise 'American Slavery As it Is' predated 'Uncle Tom's cabin' by some fifteen years. And ten years before the Seneca Falls Convention happened, we find out that the Grimke sisters had already publicly taken up the cudgels on behalf of Female Emancipation and Equal Rights.
I loved this book as I have done with all of Sue Monk Kidd's previous novels and non fiction travel memoir. I am off to re-read them. Thank you so much for the chance to review the book. I cannot recommend it more highly.Read moreLess
1 person found this review helpful.
"A great read…"
If you liked The Secret Life of Bees - you'll love this book.Set in the 1800s in the American Deep Spith, it is loosely based on the true story of the Grimke sisters & deals with the issues of slavery, the rise of abolition & those that stand up for abolition. It is a powerful book to read, distessing at times to read, but a positive end. I would highly recommend this book.Read moreLess