About the Book (Good Reads)
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.
This is one of the better club reads for me so far. I enjoyed every bit of this historical fiction and got the opportunity to learn about slavery and the Quaker involvement in the abolition of slave trade. The story in this novel is told from two points of view. That of a slave girl- Handful and of Sarah whose family are slave owners but her nature is against the whole aspect of slavery.
I have been brought up in a family of Quakers, so for me this was quiet interesting to learn part of the history of the Quaker church from the catechism classes I took many moons ago while in school. The stories herein are compelling and give a deep understanding to the Quaker faith in relation to abolition of slavery.
Based on a true story, the author perfectly blended it with fiction. Sarah and her Sister Angelina devote their lives to the abolition of slavery. While at the same time we travel through the lives of Charlotte, Handful and her sister Sky. As Sarah and her sister live a life in their quest to abolish slavery, Charlotte devotes her life in trying to be free from slavery.
I felt anger and sadness on the way slaves were treated. And during that period of time, women were also treated as second class citizens which makes me realize women who live in this era are quite fortunate to have the opportunities that they have. The cognitive dissonance that Sarah experienced when she had to choose between her passions, her career and settling down are some of the things that stood out for me.
Some of the major themes in the book include: slavery, culture, women’s rights, religion and the evolving of all these themes between then and now is just fascinating.
Sarah and her sister are characters that stood out for me. I admired their braveness, the resolve to make unpopular decisions and sticking to them no matter what. Granted they were born into a family that bought and treated slaves badly but they stood out by making that conscious decision not to treat slaves in an inhumane way. I disliked Sarah’s mum, and her elder sister simply because of the way they treated slaves and for being pro slavery.
I learnt so much from this book. One of the most fascinating things as mentioned earlier was the history of the Quaker church and their role religion played in the abolition of slavery. It changed my perception on slave masters; from the story it is evident that not every white person was in support of slavery.
I loved how the book ended, the author left it open to my imagination on what happened to Handful, Sky, Sarah and Angelina. It was a perfect ending for me. Since the book is based on a true story with aspects of fiction, I appreciate how the author blended both the fiction and non-fiction parts in bring both the points of view of Sarah and Handful to life.