The novel tells the story of four women from Charleston, South Carolina—two sisters from the prosperous white Grimké family and an African American mother and daughter who are the Grimkés' house slaves. All four share an ardent desire to break free: Sarah and Angelina Grimké from the constraints of being female in the early 19th century, and Hetty and her mother, Charlotte, from the bonds of slavery.
Though the tale is fictional, the Grimké sisters were real-life abolitionists whose stories captivated Kidd. Also drawn from real life is Hetty, nicknamed Handful. Her character sealed the deal for me. She profoundly deepened my understanding of what it was to be an urban slave and of what striving for freedom and dignity feels like on the inside.
Kidd was drawn to tell Hetty's story because she is a seeker herself, on a mission to deeply engage with the world. She grew up in a time when women were pressured to follow a traditional path, and in many ways she did: marrying, becoming a nurse, having two children. But she was also acutely aware of the women's movement and the struggle for civil rights, which not only helped shape her inner voice but at some point started telling her that writing was what she was born to do. At age 30, Kidd sat her husband down and announced her intention: to become a writer. To achieve that goal, she tapped "a reservoir inside myself—my own little ordinary genius that is the source of creative life. I think we all have one."
For more than 20 years, Kidd published mainly nonfiction books and articles; she didn't finish her first novel, the wildly successful The Secret Life of Bees, until she was 53, 12 years ago. I couldn't wait to tell her how glad I am that she found her calling and what an impact her new book had on me.
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