In Short: Dana, a modern black woman, suddenly and inexplicably finds herself transported through time to 1815 to a slaveowner’s plantation in Maryland. Throughout the course of the novel she moves back and forth between present day and the early 19th century.
Why I Read It: Confession! I had never heard of Butler or Kindred before the first #Diversiverse Event that I participated in. At that time Diversiverse was for speculative fiction written by persons of color and Octavia Butler was one of the most recommended authors. I was thrilled when the e-book went on sale a few months ago and even more thrilled when I remembered this year’s Diversiverse event.
Thoughts in General: Let’s get something out of the way–this book is often classified as science-fiction and I’m going to go ahead and disagree with that label. Yes there is time travel but otherwise there is nothing science-y about this book (and even the science time travel is never explained). And if you tell me that you don’t read books with time travel, then I will argue that what this book does with the time travel is more important than the actual time travel itself. The time travel allows us to imagine what a free black woman, who has gone through the Civil Rights Movements of the 20th century, might experience emotionally and mentally if thrown into slavery. Further, Dana’s husband is a white man and at one point travels back in time with Dana and must see his wife as a slave. There are moments in this book that are horrifying. Horrifying.
Dana is a strong character and it was both fascinating and heartbreaking to see her fitting into the 19th century setting–knowing that she would have to set her freedoms aside. At first she says that she and her husband must play the act but by the end she wonders when the act became a reality. My one complaint about the book, though, is that I wanted more depth into Dana’s emotions and thoughts. Perhaps this is because I’m reading The Sparrow right now, which spells out so much of the philosophy and themes, but Kindred feels more plot driven than character driven. I often wondered how the story might have been different if told from varying perspectives (we see the story through Dana’s first person). Kevin, Dana’s husband, would have provided great insight; Alice, a freewoman who was captured into slavery, had a harrowing tale to share; and Rufus, the slaveowner and the character tied to Dana throughout the novel…ok, maybe I don’t want to know what Rufus was thinking.
Regardless of the perspective or the plot-driven story, Kindred was a fast read that was hard to put down. It was difficult to read knowing that pain and hardship and all the bad things were going to happen on Dana’s next trip in time, but I kept waiting in hope for things to take a turn for the better in the past. For people (Rufus) to learn a lesson in humanity. And like all great works of literature, Kindred made me hungry to seek out other slave narrative/neo slave narratives. Certainly these books do not make for comfortable reading, but sometimes that’s the point.
Bottom Line: Read it. While I would have enjoyed a little bit more depth, Butler raises all kinds of important questions and dialogues about slavery, race, education, human rights…
Kindred is a type of neo-slave narrative. Do you have a favorite slave narrative or neo-slave narrative (think Beloved for the latter)?