Sarah and Hetty might share a home in South Carolina, but their lives are about as different as white and black could be in the South at the start of the 19th century. On Sarah’s 11th birthday, 1803, she is given a slave – Hetty. In alternating chapters the lives of these two women unfold – both of them bursting with ambitions and desires that have no place in their society. Sarah wants to be a lawyer like her father, but is punished for even thinking it; Hetty just wants to be free. As she grows up, Sarah becomes increasingly outspoken on justice issues, fighting for equality and freedom, both for slaves and for women. For Hetty, the battle is survival and trying to keep her small family together.
The power of this tale is in Hetty’s vivid voice and in the story’s factual base. The real Sarah Grimke and her sister Nina were (in)famous across the US: Sarah was the first woman to write a comprehensive feminist manifesto and Nina the first to address a legislative body. The weakness is that Sarah’s honourable righteousness feels a bit priggish. Kidd is best known for the delightful best-seller The Secret Life of Bees. CH
Verdict: flying high ***1/2