The Reading Challenge 2016 I’ve been using calls for me to read a “book from Oprah’s Book Club,” and I had been wondering what book I could find that I wanted to read from that list. The books I prefer to read and the books on that list do not generally coincide.
But our book club selection this month was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, which I learned from the back cover is a selection of the Oprah Book Club 2.0. I don’t know what is different about the 2.0 list from the original, but all of us in the book club (well, those few of us who made it to this month’s meeting) thought this novel was well worth reading.
Before the meeting someone asked me if I enjoyed the book. I explained it’s hard to speak in terms of “enjoying” a book that describes the suffering of slaves, but it certainly was an engrossing book. I had thought, from the subject matter, it might take me a couple of weeks, reading it on and off, to finish it. But I finished it in two days.
The book is told from the point of view of two girls, one a slave and one the daughter of slaveowners. On her eleventh birthday, Sarah is given Handful as her personal maid. Sarah opposes slavery on principle and tries to write a legal document freeing the girl, but she is not permitted to do so.
Sarah feels somewhat oppressed herself, as she is not permitted to get the education she craves or aspire to the career she wants to, just because she is female. But when she tries to compare her experience to the slave’s, Handful makes it painfully clear how little Sarah really understands of oppression.
Of the two, I can relate more easily to Sarah. I suppose in part this is due to of my (fortunate) lack of anything close to the experience of being owned by someone else and treated like a piece of property, as well as my own love for books and education, and my tendency to hesitate (as Sarah does) about taking certain risks, while Handful is more daring.
But it seems to me that more of the book is written from Sarah’s perspective. Not surprisingly – she can get out and do more, make more choices, travel, and eventually take an active part in trying to change society. Sarah also turns out to be based on a real person in history, while Handful is fictional, created to give a needed perspective on the evil that Sarah – and her younger sister – end up fighting.
Other abolitionists spoke eloquently about evils of slavery, but the Grimke sisters had personal experience, seeing how the slaves were treated in their own household. They also were unusual in that they advocated not only an end to slavery but an end to racial discrimination, as well as pushing for women’s rights at the same time. Even other abolitionists were uncomfortable with their radicalism.
It is somewhat surprising to me, having read more about them, that I had not heard of the Grimke sisters before. They were well-known during their lifetime, but while I have read both fiction and non-fiction dealing with people in both the women’s rights movement and the abolition movement, I had not heard of them before.
While it might be comfortable to think of slavery as just belonging to history, unfortunately human trafficking continues today. The same day I started writing this blog post, I saw an article on facebook about child slavery used by chocolate producers. It’s easy to say that we’re not directly responsible and what can we as individuals do about it anyway, but that kind of thinking is part of what makes it possible for these evils to continue.
The question is, what can we do about it? According to this article and also this one, buying “Fair Trade” labelled products is not necessarily the answer. And even buying only the recommended brands seems like it will make so little difference. But as one blog post points out, we can’t do everything but we can at least refuse to do nothing.
It’s easy, and more comfortable, to just not think about things like this, but reading books like this one helps keep us from just ignoring the issues that still exist today.