On Books and Tea: Cardamom and Blackbirds

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The Tea: Cardamom Pu-erh, Numi.
Caffeinated: Yes
Water Temperature: 212° (boiling)
Steep Time: 4-5 minutes
Milk/Sugar: Neither for me – would suggest the same for others, especially on the milk end.
Aroma: Strangely fishy(? my nose leads astray), with an aftermath of spice.
Taste: Thankfully not fishy! The tea brewed to a brilliant, rich, and dark reddish-brown.  The cardamom shines through- a sweet spice reminiscent of my Aunt Leslie’s cardamom cookies (which are amazing).  The tea leaves contribute their own specific flavor- pu-erh is fermented, and so its taste is lasting and clear.
Would I venture to buy a whole box?: Probably not, but I did enjoy the cup that I had.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars


The BookThe Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

I stood in front of the bookshelf two days ago and let my eyes fall on whatever spine they felt drawn to. This is the typical way I choose what to read next – let the book call to you. An orange cover grabbed my eye, and I knew.

I read The Secret Life of Bees long ago for summer reading, and remember that I enjoyed the strong bond between the women of the novel – one that penetrated the walls of race and time. The Invention of Wings shares this theme, something I appreciated diving back into.

The story follows Sarah Grimké, Handful (Hetty), her slave, and Angelina (Nina), her sister, throughout their lives together. Sarah, who has abolitionist values despite the family she is born into, receives Handful as a gift when she is eleven and immediately wishes to free her. She is, of course, denied her wish, and so the two are bound together. Nina, who appears later in the novel, is Sarah’s closest sister and also shares her abolitionist views, taking them even further into action.

The novel switches back and forth between Sarah’s telling of her story and Handful’s of her own, which I found wonderful as it provided insight to both characters and their lives. To see the two from their own eyes added a dynamicism to the book that made it all the more compelling. Through this, it was easier to draw parallels between the two women, both of which would otherwise have been seen as complete opposites.

Wings and water held great symbolism throughout the book. Handful’s mother had always sewn black triangles into the quilts she made, representing blackbird wings and liberation. Water was also a sign of freedom for both women- Sarah imagined flowing water when she couldn’t speak, and Handful looked out to the ships on the harbor and sang for the ocean to release her. These themes were at times heavy-handed, but overall well woven into the story.

What made the book enjoyable for me was the roundness and strength of each female character. They were spirited and believable, imperfect and determined. Though at times I found Sarah to be a bit whiny, or wished for more of a push in her relationship with Handful, I appreciated that she was not feeble-minded or entirely too timid. I also enjoyed how important the bonds between these women were- despite distance, race, or time, they were always there for each other, unbending in their love and loyalty. I also found I could truly relate to the characters, especially in how they questioned what the future held for them and where they belonged.

Something more to acknowledge: Sarah and Angelina Grimké were real people. They were the first women agents for the anti-slavery movement, and were also incredible proponents of women’s rights. Though their stories were heavily fictionalized, the essence of their true selves was still there, which I found inspirational and moving. Certainly, after reading The Invention of Wings, I would like to learn more about them.

In terms of writing style, Sue Monk Kidd’s prose was quite beautiful. Her descriptions flowed, simultaneously creating beautiful imagery and framing the horrific treatment of slaves in the true and real cruelty of their situations. This quickly brought me from bemoaning the font size on the page to being swept away into the novel – not an altogether easy feat.

I’d recommend this novel to those interested in historical fiction, especially the antebellum South, and to those who desire to read a book with strong female relationships. Though I am hesitant to call the story “searing and soaring” (you do you USA Today), I can definitely say that it was truly worth the read.

Overall score: 4.5/5 stars

-MC

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