Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Publication Date: June 1, 1979
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 287
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The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given...

Wow. Just, wow. I don’t even know where to start with this review. I think this was who hands-down the best book I have ever read. I physically own this book but I knew I wanted to finish it before the end of 2020 and I’ve had so much going on that I decided to audiobook it on Scribd and boy am I glad I did. Please be aware that my review will contain minor spoilers.

Among the George Orwells, the Ray Bradburys, and the Aldous Huxleys, Butler broke the glass ceiling of the science fiction world. The first science fiction book ever written by a woman is Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley in 1818. Kindred, published in 1979, is the first science fiction book ever written by a black woman. It’s extremely sad and unreal that the first science fiction book by a black woman was only written 41 years ago.

As a black woman, whenever my husband and I watch anything that has anything to do with slavery, I always adamantly say I would rather die than to be someone’s slave, but Butler showed me why that statement isn’t so cut and dry. Kindred is about Dana, a woman who lives in California and just turned 26 in 1976 who inexplicably is drawn back to antebellum Maryland in the early 19th century. During her first trip, Dana saved a white boy, named Rufus, who was drowning and afterwards she found herself staring down the barrel of a shotgun held by the boy’s dad. After Dana went back to her time, she realized that Rufus was a white ancestor of hers. Throughout Rufus' life, Dana is drawn back to different times of his life over the course of two weeks in her time. Whenever his life was in danger, Dana was drawn back to him and whenever Dana’s life was in danger, she was sent back to her time.

“I never realized how quickly people can accept slavery.” Dana found herself falling into a comfortable pattern whenever she was in Maryland. In order to survive, she had to become a slave herself and find her place on the plantation. The one instance her husband was drawn back to Maryland with her, she found herself worrying if being a white man during slavery time would change him. She was worried about what he would have to do to survive and the role he would have to play to fit in.

I’ve read and watched many books, TV shows, and movies about slavery, but Kindred is the first one that completely drew me in. Kindred did to me what Rufus did to Dana whenever she was sucked back to his time. I felt her pain. I felt her humiliation. I felt the anguish she experienced at being “owned”, as if she were property and not a person. I felt her degradation at being whipped and beaten multiple times by Rufus’ father. I felt her hope that her presence in Rufus’ life and the many times she saved his life could help make him a good man.

I worked on this review for weeks and I really hope it was eloquent and sensible. For some reason, I just couldn’t put my feelings about Kindred into words. This was a harrowing and emotional book and it evoked some pretty strong feelings and grief from me. It hit the acrimony and fervor that’s been deeply living inside of me with everything race-related that happened in 2020. Kindred was my first Butler book, but it certainly won’t be my last.