I recently joined a book club (thanks to my friend, Lillian!) that meets every other month. Our third meeting was yesterday, which I hosted, so I was also charged with selecting the book. I chose The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m not a book blogger, but there were so many elements in this book that struck me, that I felt were worth reflection.
I’m ashamed to admit, as a Black woman, that the idea of slave ownership never really hit me the way it did about a third of the way through this book. I’ve always understood that people owned slaves, and of course, I’ve heard about slaves being bought and sold, but despite all the movies I’ve seen, the stories I’ve heard, and even other books I’ve read, the passage that truly brought the concept of slave ownership into focus for me is when one of the main characters, Hetty (“Handful”), comes across a book listing the value of all of her master’s possessions:
Then I turned the last page and there were all us slaves, right after the water trough, the wheelbarrow, the claw hammer, and the bushel of flint corn.
Tomfry, 51 yrs. Butler, Gentlemen’s Servant…600.
Another element I found fascinating was the pervasiveness of internal struggles the characters faced. In all honesty, I believe many people today can relate to the passage below, if they’re truly honest with themselves (that could be its own blog post). In this passage (below), Sarah (white girl who was given ownership of a slave for her birthday, but who is against slavery) is face to face with her slave, Hetty, who has just done something pretty bold and against the rules.
I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.
But Sarah isn’t the only one with conflicting feelings. Below is a passage that resonated with me from Hetty, who is referring to Sarah:
She was kind to me and she was part of everything that stole my life.
I’m always intrigued by emotions like these, how someone can be both the best thing and the worst thing that’s happened to you, how it’s possible to both love them and resent them. Naturally, the relationship between Sarah and Hetty was a complex one. Could you truly call them friends? I’m not sure if their relationship can be classified at all, and I found so many elements of it heartbreaking. I found myself wondering, after some time had passed in both of their lives, if the time they spent together meant anything at all to Sarah once she was removed from it physically, chronologically, and in my eyes, emotionally. So this passage (below) both comforted and pained me.
I watched her…and I remembered us–little girls on the roof…We’d spilled all of our secrets to one another there. It was the closest thing to parity the two of us had ever found. I tried to hold the picture in my mind, to breathe it back to life, but it dissolved.
I didn’t expect her to confide in me anymore. She would keep her secrets now.
Naturally, as time passes with those moments no longer existing, they start to become a distant memory, regardless of how desperate one may be to hold on to them. But coming to the realization that those moments would never be relived had to be somewhat difficult for Sarah, as I would imagine she also understood her role in their relationship reaching that point. I don’t completely place blame on either one of them, as the circumstances surrounding their relationship made it nearly impossible for it to continue in that manner, but I found it so incredibly heartbreaking. Later, at the end of a letter written to Hetty, Sarah says:
I’ve failed in many things, even in my love for you, but I think of you as my friend.
I highly recommend this book. While I didn’t exactly love Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees or The Mermaid Chair, I truly enjoyed reading and discussing this one.
To go along with the theme of the book, I made Gullah Rice, which I also highly recommend. It’s similar to jambalaya, but it has a very different flavor. I also recommend making the Gullah seasoning ahead of time. I made it the night before, and I was so glad! The recipe is very involved, and it ended up taking a lot longer than I’d anticipated, but I think it was worth it. All in all, yesterday was just a really nice afternoon spent with friends and enjoying good food, champagne, cupcakes, and great discussion.