Although I’ve loved Octavia Butler’s works in previous years (Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Fledgling), I’ve been a bit hesitant about reading Kindred. I knew that it had to do with slavery, and well, that’s never an easy topic, fiction or non-fiction, to read about. (Funny how reading about children killing each other i.e. The Hunger Games seems like an easier read.) Anyway… I was surprised at how readable it was. (Although as I write that, I wonder if I really should’ve been. After all, Butler is a fantastic storyteller.)
And right from the beginning, Butler brings you straight into the rather odd circumstances that Dana has found herself in:
“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.
And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone.”
Of course I had to read on, wanting, needing to know what exactly had happened to her.
Dana, a young black writer, finds herself in a rather weird situation. It is 1976 and she and her husband Kevin have just moved to a house of their own and are unpacking when everything vanishes and she finds herself at the edge of a river, with a little boy drowning before her eyes. She saves him, little Rufus, an “ugly name to inflict on a reasonably nice-looking little kid”. Rufus is the son of a plantation owner living in the south during the early 1800s. And Dana’s ancestor. Dana seems to be pulled back to his time whenever his life is at stake in order to save him and her family’s fate, and for longer and longer periods, and as a result, forced to live as a slave in that household. She is whipped and beaten. And nearly raped. Her time in the south gets more and more terrifying as time passes and Rufus grows older and sadly, becomes more like his harsh father.
Butler’s method of time travel, more or less unexplained and seemingly random, adds that thrilling aspect to the book. You never know what trouble Rufus has gotten himself into, and just how Dana will find herself back in her own time again.
It was quite amazing to learn that Kindred was published in 1979. It is quite timeless even today, 31 years on. Kindred is an absolutely brilliant book, a difficult read given its subject and brutality, but a must-read. Which leaves me to ask myself: why did it take me so long to get to it?
I read Kindred in May and I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. People may be put off by the premise thinking it too difficult subject matter or that the sci-fi is not their thing, but you’re right, the book is so readable and definitely a page-turner. I’ll probably get around to buying it for my own collection at some point.
Oh I would love to have my own Octavia Butler collection! I hardly buy books but I think hers are definitely worth investing in!
I find the same sort of resistance in my own reading. It took me ages to make time for Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy because I knew it, too, would have its “difficult” side. Now I’m working up to Toni Morrison’s series, re-reading the half of Beloved that I read before and moving beyond it at last…
I sooo have to read it. It seems like everyone is jumping on this book as of late, and my reading of the short story, “Bloodchild,” only has me more interested in Butler. Great review! I’m hooked!
Thanks, Andi! Kindred is a truly awesome read, and I hope you do get to reading it.
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