Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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.
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Viking
ISBN 0670024783 (ISBN13: 9780670024780)
About the Author
SUE MONK KIDD was raised in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and later took creative writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writers’ conferences. In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction.
When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon, spending more than 2½ years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and 8 million copies worldwide. Bees was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004, long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize in England, and won numerous awards.
The Mermaid Chair spent 24 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching the #1 position, and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. Kidd lives in Florida with her husband.
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Hetty (aka Handful), a young slave on a Charleston plantation, is given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday as a handmaid. The story follows the lives of Hetty and Sarah over the course of 35 years, laying bare the differing difficulties that both endure throughout their lives.
This story is inspired by the historical figure Sarah Grimke, and it was fascinating to read more about the lives and accomplishments of her and her younger sister after finishing the story.
Hetty is indeed a "handful", and a willful young girl who grows into an impressively strong young woman.
Sarah likewise is willful, and finds herself constricted by social standards for women. She is smart and ambitious, but trapped in a man's world. So she carves out a place for herself in a world that only views women as wives and mothers or property or burden.
My final word: I liked this story. There were a lot of hard moments to get through, but overall it was rather inspiring and perhaps even empowering. And it made me realize how closely intertwined women's rights and civil rights were, as the real Sarah Grimke was heavily involved with both. Hetty is equally impressive in her struggles, and fights tooth and nail for everything. This is a great book club read!
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The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.
This book was the November 2016 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.