Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

kindred

I read Kindred for G. X. Todd’s #ReadWomenSF Book Club, which meets on Twitter once a month (we’re discussing Kindred on Monday 2 July) to discuss – you guessed it – science fiction written by women.  Books are voted for via Twitter poll, leaving approx. 4 weeks to read the novel before the next discussion.  All are welcome 😊

In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer.  In 1815, she is assumed a slave.

When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning.  She saves his life – and it will happen again and again.

Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them.

And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun.

Octavia E. Butler’s ground-breaking masterpiece is the extraordinary story of two people bound by blood, separated by so much more than time.

Kindred alternates between the present day and the early nineteenth century antebellum south, as Dana is repeatedly transported back in time to save Rufus at various stages of his life.  The time travel element isn’t explained, and I don’t think it needs to be.  It’s enough that Dana and Rufus have a connection, and that this is something that Dana has no control over whatsoever.  This gives an interesting parallel between Dana’s situation of being at the beck and call of a white man to that of the men, women, and children born and sold into slavery throughout history, and not by accident, I’m sure.

I loved Dana, and whilst I didn’t always agree with her actions and decisions, I always had it in mind that you shouldn’t judge a person (even a fictional one) until you’ve walked in their shoes, as this would be an impossible situation to deal with.  Butler puts her protagonist through quite an ordeal, and I loved Dana’s determination and perseverance in the face of such adversity.  She sacrifices an incredible amount over the course of the novel, and I found her attitude fascinating as she seeks to maintain her authority and independence in a period of history where she would have had none.

I found Kindred to be an extremely powerful novel, and this is at least partly because it allows the reader to see slavery from a modern-day perspective.  It doesn’t go into graphic detail of the atrocities committed at the time, but it doesn’t shy away from them either, and I felt that the balance was exactly right.  There are elements that are a little uncomfortable, and even though they are implied rather than seen, some of it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.  That said, given the delicacy with which this is handled, I did wonder whether Kindred would be a good way of introducing the topic of slavery to students (of a suitable age) in schools and colleges, fiction though it is.  I felt that seeing it through Dana’s eyes gave a different perspective to what I’ve seen previously, and I think that’s it’s a point of view that would bring it to life for students.  Just my opinion, of course, I’m not qualified to comment on such things.

First published in 1979, Kindred is largely set in the nineteenth century, but it does have a lot to say about attitudes towards gender, class and race today as well as historically.  It surprised me in its timeless feel – it doesn’t feel dated in the way that some novels from almost 40 years ago can.  Whilst there is a science fiction element to it in Dana’s time travelling, I think it sits just as comfortably in the literary and historical fiction categories, and I’d recommend this incredibly important novel to all, even those who would normally avoid science fiction.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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6 thoughts on “Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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