Sunday, July 5, 2020

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler


July 4, 1976.  It is the two hundredth birthday of the United States of America.  Dana is celebrating her 26th birthday with her husband in their new apartment in California when she abruptly travels through time to a 19th century plantation in Maryland just in time to save a young boy, Rufus.  Dana is a black modern woman, her husband Kevin is white, and Rufus is the white son of a planation owner.  Dana keeps traveling back and forth through time to save Rufus. She comes to realize that Rufus and a young freed woman name Alice are her ancestors.  She must keep them save to ensure that her own family line exists.  Will Dana be able to keep them and herself safe?

I have read a lot of great books lately, but this is definitely one of the best fiction novels I’ve ever read.  I have heard of Octavia E. Butler for a long time and this is the first book I’ve read that is written by her.  Butler put together this novel in an innovative way that makes you feel like you are experiencing the horrors of slavery.  The novel is told from Dana’s first-person point of view.  Dana being a modern woman transplanted back and experiencing slavery made it relatable to a modern-day audience.  I also thought it was eye opening when Dana’s husband travels back with her and as a white man, he experiences things very differently from Dana. 

I really loved how Dana was able to meet various people on and around the plantation and to understand what they were going through.  Each character had their own story and how they were able to pull together the strength to survive.  I cared for the characters and was pained by their suffering.  What I realized when I got to the end of the novel was that slavery changed all people that it involved for the worse.  The slaves had to endure and act in ways they would not naturally to survive and the owners became cruel creatures that took what they wanted without care for their own souls.  Dana’s ancestor Alice as a free woman of color who was forced into slavery had a very tragic story that I cannot stop thinking about.  The way that children were taken from people and sold for literally anything including new furniture, was heart breaking.

My copy of Kindred had a great Reader’s guide that discussed the story in more detail.  It said that Butler had heard a classmate rale against his ancestors and their submissiveness before the civil rights and black power era.  Butler extensively researched slavery and came to understand that the seeming submissiveness was a way that some people survived during a brutal time.  While they outwardly appeared submissive, their souls were in rebellion. There were also great discussion questions at the end of the book.  This would make an excellent book club selection.

I love time travel books.  In this novel, there is no scientific or really any explanation at all for why Dana travels through time.  The question is not really the why, but the journey that Dana experiences.  I read that Butler’s other novels dive much deeper into science fiction.  I need to check them out.  I have mostly read white male sci fi authors throughout my life and I would love to see another perspective.

Favorite Quotes:
"The fire flared up and swallowed the dry paper, and I found my thoughts shifting to Nazi book burnings. Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of ‘wrong’ ideas."

“This could be a great time to live in," Kevin said once. "I keep thinking what an experience it would be to stay in it— go West and watch the building of the country, see how much of the Old West mythology is true."

"West," I said bitterly. "That’s where they’re doing it to the Indians instead of the blacks!"
He looked at me strangely. He had been doing that a lot lately."

"I am not a horse or a sack of wheat. If I must seem to be property, if I have to accept limits on my freedom for Rufus's sake, then he also has to accept limits - on his behavior towards me. He has to leave me enough control of my own life to make living look better to me than killing and dying."

Overall, Kindred is an excellent novel that puts the reader into the middle of slavery through the first-person perspective of Dana, a time traveler from the modern era.  It delves into how slavery was morally corrupting for all involved and truly evil, but it also gave hope for the future.

Book Source:  Purchased from Amazon.com

4 comments:

  1. This sounds like a unique and fascinating book, Laura, with important themes. I often enjoy time travel in books, like you, when it is done well. Thank you for your thoughtful review.

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  2. Great review! This is another book I've been meaning to read for awhile. Hopefully I'll get to it sometime soon. :)

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  3. I want to read something by her, but time travel? Hm... not sure it is one for me! Thanks!

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  4. The time travel works great in this novel. Having a modern person actually live the horrors of slavery is what sets this book apart! It was unique and I loved it. I'm going to pick it for my book club whenever we start meeting again!

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