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—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
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.
This book was enjoyable, but it was a little too slow for my taste. It’s a long chronicle of the intertwining lives of Sarah Grimke and a slave, Handful. Sarah’s mother presents Handful to Sarah on her 11th birthday. She’s just moved out of the nursery, and she needs a lady’s maid. Sarah abhors slavery even at that young age. She saw a slave getting wiped when she was 4 year old, and it scarred her, both mentally and physically. Handful and Sarah develop an almost friendship. Sarah even promises Handful’s mother, Charlotte, that she will do everything she can to free Handful.
Sue Monk Kidd has created an interesting portrayal of Southern life and slavery in the city of Charleston. I think before this I had really only read about plantation slaves. I really enjoyed the beginning of the story with Sarah and Handful’s small acts of defiance. But I was hoping for more of an abolitionist tale, especially since I just read and loved The Mapmaker’s Children.
The parallel stories of two women both trapped by their circumstances and their attempts to break free held my interest even though this audiobook seemed to drag on forever. It took me about 3 weeks to get through. It was heartbreakingly realistic, so I feel bad rating it so low. In the end though, it wasn’t the right type of book for me. I should have paid more attention to the description on the CD case that mentioned following the characters for 35 years. That’s just too long in my opinion.
My Rating: 3 Stars
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