by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the 1800s, Sarah is the daughter of a Charleston judge who receives a slave girl for her 11th birthday. The gift horrifies her, but is the beginning of a relationship that will change her forever. The plot follows the relationship between Sarah and her handmaid Hetty (Handful) over the course of their lives. Their intertwined lives change the way that both of them see the other race. They are both fighting against their very different forms of imprisonment they face and find solace in their bond.
The audiobook version, which I listened to, includes a note from the author at the end. She explains where the inspiration for the book came from and tells the readers exactly which parts are fact and which are fiction. I absolutely loved that section. I had no idea until the book was over that Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina were real people and groundbreaking forces for both the abolitionist and feminist movements. Knowing that gave the entire book a different weight for me.
I was also reminded of the timeless struggle we all face to align the person we want to be with the person our family expects us to be. It's amazing that it can be so much more difficult to stand up to our families than it is to take a stance in front of strangers. There something about the way we are treated when we’re young that makes us revert to a specific mentality whenever we’re around our siblings and parents. We become the bossy one, the baby of the family, etc. whatever role we were pigeonholed into when we’re young and we can't seem to shake them when we're back home.
The book deals with some heartbreaking looks at slavery and the casual way it was accepted in the South. One of the best examples in the book of the difference between the way the slave see themselves and the way their white owner see them is their names. Each slave has a name that's given to him by his owner when he's born, but they also are given a name by their mother and that's their true name. Hetty was truly “Handful” throughout her life to everyone other than the “masters.” Throughout a slaves life they live with that dichotomy, who they really are and then who they are as a slave.
BOTTOM LINE: Well written and interesting, I just wish I’d known it was based on a real pair of sisters from the beginning. To me, that’s the most incredible part of the story. I loved learning about the Grimke sisters. I can’t imagine being born into a slave-owning family and then becoming a leader in the fight against slavery. It’s just incredible.
Image from here.