Sue Monk Kidd, who wrote The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, has a new book out. I loved her other books so was happy to get hold of this one too.
Set in the early 1800’s, the book is told from two perspectives, Sarah, who comes from a slave owning family in Charleston, South Carolina, and Handful, one of her slaves. Each girl has alternating chapters so the reader gets both views on the events that are happening.
Sarah is given Handful as a gift on her 11th birthday. Even though Sarah has been raised in this atmosphere of slavery, she is appalled that she could “own” someone. Sarah tries to free Handful but is stopped by her parents as well as the laws of the day which makes it difficult to emancipate a slave. The two girls become friends. They try to help each other as they deal with slavery and the submissive role of women in the world. Sarah struggles with the ideas of a woman’s role. She wants a career but is stymied at every turn. Her one salvation is her younger sister, Angelina, who she practically raises as her own. She teaches her to hate the slavery that supports their family.
Handful and her mother Charlotte have their own struggle. They are secretly working to earn money in order to buy their freedom. When caught out in an infraction, the punishments are severe. Handful gets caught up in plans for a slave uprising. Charlotte falls in love but the hardships of a black couple staying together can be insurmountable.
The book takes us through the roles of slave and master in the South, and into the North where the slave question is fought with many different ideas for a solution. Sarah and Angelina also get caught up in the struggle for women’s rights.
I enjoyed the book very much even if the stories of slave punishment were a bit hard to take. What really took me back was when I finished and read the author notes. This story is based on real people. Sarah and Angelina Grimké were actual abolitionists and among the most famous (or infamous) speakers of their day. Their writings on women’s rights were inspiration of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others. The story of Handful, while not based on an actual person, realistically depicts the life of slaves at that time.
Lisette and her husband Andre move from Paris to Provence just before WWII to take care of Andre’s aging grandfather, Pascal. There they discover that Pascal owns seven masterpiece paintings. Nazi Germany has a reputation of either confiscating or destroying artwork, so Andre hides the pieces to protect them. Lisette, all alone now with Andre killed during the war and Pascal having died right before the war started, must find the missing art.
Dealing with her grief, loneliness, and the hardships of war is difficult for Lisette. But thinking about the artwork of Cezanne, Pisarro, and Picasso helps her to learn more about herself and the Provence countryside she is in which she is exiled. She also meets the artist Marc Chagall and learns more about the world of art that she yearns for.
After the war, Lisette looks for the missing paintings. Discovering where they are hidden also helps her to discover more about friendship and eventually, love.
Reading this book was like looking into an impressionist painting and discovering for oneself what the artist was trying to say. A painting can speak to each person in a different way. In like fashion, a book can speak to the reader in different ways. That’s what makes book discussion groups so much fun! We learn of different relationships between author and reader and maybe see things is a new light.
Fanny Flag, best known for her book “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Café”, is always funny and touching at the same time. I’ve never been disappointed in one of her books.
Sookie Poole of Alabama lives in the shadow of her mother, Lenore. She has never seemed to be able to live up to Lenore’s expectations. Lenore is a fun but formidable woman, outgoing, talented, and a bit overbearing to Sookie. Yet, Sookie has had a good life, a wonderful husband, and now all her children are married and out of the house. It’s time to relax. That is, until she discovers a long-kept secret about her mother’s past. As Sookie learns to deal with this new revelation, she discovers more about herself and how to live as Lenore’s daughter. Her research into the past reveals things she never knew about herself or her mother.
Without giving away too many secrets, the book goes back and forth in time, presenting the details of the life of women serving in the United States Air Force as WAVES during WWII. We focus on Fritzi, an ambitious women as the 1940’s and her family who run a gas station in the Midwest. Fritzi joins the WAVES, and her story tells of the hardships and prejudice these brave women endured. The reader learns a lot about this real group of brave women who have only recently gained the recognition they deserve.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes a strong female-led story, or stories based in the South. The combination of humor, history, and mystery is something I personally can’t pass up.