Published by Viking on January 7th 2014
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Such an amazing book. I loved every page of it! This book was amazing. I love books that make one think and feel and this book did both. Parts were inspiring, parts were devastating, disturbing, etc. This is the story of mainly 2 women but also more women of note are also in this book as minor characters. The novel really begins when an 11 year old daughter of a plantation owner is given a slave for her 11th birthday. Well, actually the novel begins when Sarah experiences speaking difficulties after seeing a slave whipped at the age of 4. She doesn’t know quite what to do or how to act when given a slave for her 11th birthday. A slave that although she tries, she cannot free. Sarah also does not feel free herself, she years to do things with her life – careers only allowed for men. She feels trapped being a woman -wanting to do something “big” and important in her life, but being constantly told she cannot because she is female.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, is the slave whom Sarah is given for her 11th birthday. She is also a child and they basically grown up together. One a slave and one a slave owner but they share a special bond. Through Hetty and her mother Charlotte, we learn about the atrocities (one legged punishment for example) and horrors of slave life and treatment. What it is like to be owned by another person. What it is like to yearn for freedom, to speak your mind, and to live your own life but not being able to do so, because you belong to another. Their (Charlotte and Hetty) story is heartbreaking and tragic but also tells of strength, courage and dignity. I love how both Charlotte and Hetty/Handful constantly push the boundaries in an attempt to live their own lives and to strive for something better.
The books alternates between Sarah and Hetty’s two voices. We learn about both of their lives, their hopes and their dreams, their fears, their anxieties, and their thoughts on one another. We learn about both of their intertwined lives over a 35 year span. I love the part in the book (and I am paraphrasing) where Hetty tells Sarah that her (Hetty’s) body may not be free but her mind is her own and that Sarah’s body is free but her mind (Sarah’s) is not her own. I know some people did not are for the alternating voices but I loved it. I thought it was brilliant and really gave us a glimpse of both women. Each of their stories was important and needed to be told.
As the book comes to a close, Handful will endure loss, grief, abuse, disfigurement, and sorrow, but will also learn she is stronger than she thinks. Sarah will experience seeing her hopes crushed, the inability to obtain her work/spiritual goals, unrequited love, and ostracism from her peers. But she also finds strength in herself, her spiritual beliefs and in the special bond she shares with the younger sister, Nina whom she helped to raise. With her sister’s help, they become some of the first women to speak out against slavery and women’s rights.
I even loved the footnotes where the Author tells us how the real life story of the Grimke sisters inspired her book. Not all of her characters were real, some were based on real people but some were invented. She does a great job in telling us why she wrote what she did and what liberties she took with their story.