In this Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 image from video, Kyaw Naing, a slave from Myanmar, looks through the bars of a cell at the compound of a fishing company in Benjina, Indonesia. After working for three years on a Thai trawler, sometimes enduring beatings with the bones of sting ray, he begged his captain to let him return home. “All I did was tell my captain I couldn’t take it anymore, that I wanted to go home,” Naing says. “The next time we docked, I was locked up.” (AP Photo/APTN)
A number of recent media investigations have reported on the underground slave trade on southeast Asian fishing boats. Malaysian and Cambodian men are bought and sold into labor aboard the vessels, which are Thai in origin, forced to work in unsafe conditions, and paid nothing for their labor. The trawlers in question fish Southwest Asian seas, dragging nets for low-value fish that is sold to shrimp producers.
Slavery is illegal, yet it is driving Thailand’s growth – so why are retailers, producers, and governments alike turning a blind eye?
In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd takes us back to a time of slavery, the peculiar practice ratified by the Bible, in our own history. It’s historical fiction based on the formative years of Sarah Grimké, a nineteenth century abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
My aim was not to write a thinly fictionalized account of Sarah Grimké’s history, but a thickly imagined story inspired by her life.
The novel covers a lot of territory ~ slavery and its role in our nation’s founding, women’s rights and the true meaning of equality, religion and its role in politics, the power of hope and courage, the complications in familial relationships, the many ways to preserve memories, the value of creativity, and the importance of sharing stories.
owning people was as natural as breathing
The Invention of Wings is based on the real-life Grimkes from pre-war Charleston, South Carolina. It’s the story of Sarah and her slave, Handful. Sarah is wealthy and privileged, but her hopes to become something more than a wife who sews are squashed by her family. As a result of her equal rights/abolitionist convictions, she becomes a pariah.
Lucretia Mott says to Sarah,
Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.
Monk deconstructs the artifice of Sarah’s genteel upbringing in South Carolina and reveals the coarser story of the South and civil rights. I wonder what kind of woman Sarah would’ve been in today’s world.
Sarah devises a slogan for herself that I’d like to have engraved on something: “If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.” Imagine being raised by a mother who says “every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good.”
Sarah is given a slave, Handful, as a birthday present and the two ten-year-old girls grow up together. Fiercely independent Handful engages in subversive behavior (thinking for herself) and participates in a slave rebellion. This is not a storybook friendship.
Sarah had jimmied herself into my heart but at the same time … she was part of everything that stole my life.
In spite of having her foot mangled because of a torturous punishment, Handful is undeterred.
I have one mind for the master to see. I have another mind for what I know is me.
Handful’s mother, Charlotte, is her guiding light. She’s a valued family seamstress who, because of her defiant stand, is whipped, chocked, and has her teeth knocked out with a hammer.
Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy.
Kidd writes about the work house and torture with the same eloquence that she describes the plush household of the Grimkés. You muck through the mud and dung of Charleston’s yards, walk the sweltering streets, and watch the militia thunder in to quell the slave revolt.
Monk puts you amid the bustle of its harbor and lets you sit in the freezing northern attic with the sisters writing their call-to-arms pamphlets.
The rail in the stable was forbidden ’cause the horses had eyes too precious for lye. Slave eyes were another thing.
(Sue Monk Kidd just happens to be a Florida author. She lives on an island, the only thing we have in common, off the other coast.)
Growing up in Georgia in the ’50s and ’60s, Kidd said the stories that resonated with her came from the black female domestics in her parents’ and grandparents’ homes. And they weren’t about singing and dancing.
The Old Plantation, circa 1785-1795, attributed to John Rose; watercolour on laid paper; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Williamsburg, Virginia.
In a world beset by modern-day slavery, the novel resonates. It’s about inexpressible pain, emotional shackles, and paving a path to freedom. Define it as bonded labor, or coerced servitude, the fact that still so many humans are worked like livestock is a stain on the world’s conscience.
The 13th Amendment didn’t end slavery.
How many slaves do you have?