Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I read two outstanding historical fiction books set in South Carolina and had to hurry up and send in my picks to our local newspaper. Aren't the covers gorgeous? I've been paying a lot of attention to book design, what attracts me, for we do judge a book by its cover.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about the bonds of family. It’s how we know who we are. This book begins in present-day Aiken, SC, with Avery Stafford, born into one of South Carolina’s wealthy, privileged, and political families, who comes across a resident, May, in an ordinary nursing home who grips her wrist and asks, “Fern?” May takes Avery’s bracelet, a gift from her beloved grandmother, who is in a different and posh nursing home. When Avery discovers the theft, her federal prosecutorial sixth sense tells her something more might be going on with May and she goes digging for the truth. Interspersed with Avery’s investigation, we get to know the Foss family as they are in 1939. They live a happy life aboard their shantyboat until the parents have to take an emergency trip to the hospital with the mother in danger of dying birthing twins. The children, five of them, are kidnapped from their shantyboat and taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home where Rill, the oldest tries valiantly to keep everyone together, but loses one sibling after another to adoption. The abuses and travails the many children suffer are taken from historical accounts of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, which stole poor children and sold them to wealthy families, under the direction of Georgia Tann (from 1920 to 1950). At the end of the book, Wingate shares many of her resources.
I've always believed that a child has a right to his or her own mother and father. Only if they cannot care for them and relinquish custody should the children be taken away and placed in loving homes. Alas, there are so many abuses, from telling the new mother her baby died to having illiterate parents sign away their rights to the baby by lying to them. And with the birthrate going down, I fear that children will become a commodity. It's already happening, with some people thinking they have a right to a child and doing all sorts of unnatural things to have one. I still remember learning about the first test-tube baby and wondering if we should be doing this just because we can. Now there are babies made with even three parents. And the saddest thing is when the parents decide they don't want the baby after all. Have mercy, O Lord.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a richly imagined life of Sarah Grimke and Hetty Handful. Sarah is a woman raised in a wealthy family in Charleston, who fought to abolish slavery and who also fought for women’s rights. The story begins when Sarah is given her own personal slave, Hetty, when they are both children. They become close and Sarah flouts the laws of the time teaching Handful to read, incurring a severe punishment for both girls. The real Handful dies soon after but in this book, Handful gets to live and we see their lives entwined. Told in alternating chapters in the voices of Handful and Sarah, we see how the two grow up into the women they are meant to be. Kidd is a masterful storyteller and at the end of the book shares her inspiration and some of her research.
I have read only a few slave accounts in their own words and Handful's voice is authentic. The sorrows they've endured breaks my heart. Man's inhumanity towards another man shocks me to the core. I hope we never forget our history, never forget that you cannot put a price on a man's head. Each and every life is infinitely valuable. All the arguments for abolishing slavery also work for abolishing abortion. It is evil. And just because something's legal doesn't make it right.
I've lived in Charleston for seven years and have never heard about the remarkable Grimke sisters. So I had to go digging. I highly recommend Sisters Against Slavery: a story about Sarah and Angelina Grimke by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson (illustrated by Karen Ritz) for young readers. It is beautifully illustrated and gives a good overview that will whet kids' appetites to know more.

And for those who want to dig deeper, check out the original writings of The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women's Rights and Abolition by Gerda Lerner.

What great books are you reading this summer?



Mirka Breen said...

Abuse "because we can" is and always was part of humanity in this world. As selfless as fostering children can be, that system, too, is rife with abusers. If only people were as angels... Well, our story would be a different one, wouldn't it.

I liked Sue Monk Kid's THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BEES. I recommended it to my father, who loved it and said he hadn't imagined he could relate so closely to a fourteen-year-old girl protagonist. The Author had written it as a YA but it was marketed as a literary book for adults, which from an authorly perch I found interesting.

Vijaya said...

Yup, if we could just be good, so many of our problems would not exist.

I loved Secret Life of Bees--I didn't know its marketing tale though. BOUND is definitely literary so perhaps I should be fiddling with my labels so that the right people find it. I didn't like Kidd's Mermaid Chair but read the whole book because her writing is exquisite, but Invention is simply stunning. And to read the essays the Grimke sisters wrote, Wow!!!