OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
REPRESENTATION: Black Woman MC, Black Side Characters
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Science Fiction, Historical (1976 & early-1800s)
TRIGGER WARNINGS: RACISM, SLAVERY, RAPE, VIOLENCE
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: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
I’m really struggling to fully articulate how much I loved this book.
Kindred is the second book I’ve read by Octavia Butler (the first one was Dawn) and last time I said that I absolutely had to read more of her work. It’s been a while. Now, after reading Kindred, I absolutely have to read more of her work.
The summary pretty much gives you all you need to know about the plot. It also points out that this is the first science-fiction book written by a black woman. It’s a clever concept, told simply and elegantly. Now, while the plot has perhaps been replicated a few times, but this doesn’t stop it being a fascinating and compelling read.
The plot itself, however, wasn’t what made Kindred such a brilliant, five-star read for me. Although I loved seeing the contrast between Dana’s life in 1976 and 1815 — and I was intrigued to learn how the hospitalized Dana at the start of the novel came to be — it was the characters themselves which really drew me in. Butler manages to do characterisation better than almost anyone else I’ve read. She never really sits you down and tells you about Dana’s personality, it just comes through in the storyline. She does make a point of telling you some of the aspects of Dana’s life as they become relevant: for instance, how she met Kevin, her family’s reaction to their relationship, what her 1976 career was etc. But the really important things that just absolutely drew me to Dana were her determination, her fear of failing, her courage and the incredibly complex feelings that she had towards Rufus. The whole thing just completely fascinated me and made her so relatable.
I thought that the dynamic between Rufus and Dana was so brilliantly written, because it would be really easy to either go down the line of “well obviously, he’s a slave owner and a bully so she hate’s him”, or be too sympathetic, making him the poor-little white-boy, or even worse, creating a slave-master romance. Butler manages to straddle that line absolutely perfectly. Both Dana and the reader see some glimpse of a decent human being in Rufus’s bad behaviour — especially as a child, you really want to believe the best of him — but you still absolutely get it he and his father are the villains of this story. The fact that Dana constantly has to struggle between the wanting to save him so that her family line can come into being, and wanting to let him die so that her own suffering can end, is gut-wrenching and incredible to read.
I read this book in one sitting, and I know it’s absolutely going to be an all-time favourite. I received an eARC (I assume) to promote the new cover edition that’s out, and as soon as I finished it I went online and ordered myself a copy to keep. I’m definitely going to read more of Octavia Butler’s work, hopefully, sooner than it took for me to get to this one.
Aside from Kindred and Dawn, do you have any recommendations about which Octavia E. Butler book I read next?