Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Posted 25 September, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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kindredTitle: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: 1979 Pages: 264
Genre: Fiction

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)?

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17 Responses to “Kindred by Octavia E. Butler”

  1. I’m glad to hear you liked this book. I’ve had this one on my list for a while, but I have heard some people say not to bother with it. Now, I’m wondering what is it about this book that makes people either love it or feel indifferent about it. The time travel aspect of it was what made me want to read it, but maybe some people don’t like that (gasp!).

  2. I’ve not read this type of book, time travel throws me off, but if you say it’s not that big a part of the book, I’m interested. Thanks

  3. I read this about two years ago, but I honestly don’t remember what I thought about it. I do recall telling one if my sisters to read it. One of my favorite books about slavery is Alex Haley’s “Queen”. I also couldn’t put down The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.

  4. This book has been on my shelf to read for awhile now, and I appreciate your wonderful review. It really does sound interesting–I cannot even imagine how hard that must have been for Dana, having to give up her freedom like that.

  5. I’ve been meaning to read this for several years. I think I first heard about it from Andi (or maybe it was Heather) and I’ve been intrigued ever since. Definitely going to give it a read in the next few months.

    BTW, I was going to recommend Beloved (which I loved, although it was VERY upsetting/disturbing), but it sounds like you’ve already read it.

  6. Time travel throws me off a teensy bit when I’m reading it (not watching it, obviously… Doctor Who and all hehe) especially if the book is *not* science fiction and hence not “explained.” Not enough to avoid the read though. This sounds so powerful, and it’s been on my TBR list for way too long.

  7. I love the premise of this novel, but had a hard time actually reading it. The almost constant dialogue as well as the so-so writing drove me nuts. I ended up abandoning the story about 1/3 of the way through. After reading your review, I’m considering picking it back up, but I don’t know … what do you think? Should I give it another shot?

  8. Fantastic review! This is pretty much everything I avoid reading – racial and social issues, emotional and physical pain, hardship as well as time travel – and I feel tempted to read this. To be honest I probably won’t but it does sound good. I’m glad you enjoyed it even with wanting a little more depth.

  9. I have read a few books by Octavia Butler, but not this one. I’m curious why Dana kept going back in time, if things were so horrible there- perhaps she was forced to? couldn’t help it? you’ve piqued my interest.

  10. I think what I liked about this book was how immediate Butler made slavery. When we learn about it and think about it, it is always in very abstract terms. But here, we see just how personal the impact was, and I found that very powerful.