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Kindred by Octavia Butler

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

It’s pretty rare that I discover an author I instantly love, and then find out that they have an extensive catalog I can read, and then I find out that they died tragically at age 58 and that once I’ve read them all, there will be no more books. But that’s been my experience with Octavia Butler and her wonderful book Kindred over the last two weeks.

A heartbreaking book by a lovely person who died in a heartbreaking accident.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The book begins with a black woman named Dana and her husband Kevin, who is white. They live in Pasadena in 1976. Suddenly the world begins to blur and Dana suddenly finds herself back in what will turn out to be the antebellum South in the early 19th century.

She doesn’t know what has happened, but she sees a young white boy drowning in a river. She saves him, then immediately finds herself looking into the barrel of a rifle.The world blurs again, and she’s back at home, in 1976. She has been gone for several minutes, but to her husband, who saw her vanish, it has only been a few seconds.

As she continues to jump helplessly back and forth, we learn that the boy she saves is one of her ancestors. Every time she gets called back to the past, it is because his life is in immediate danger.

So she is put in the unfortunate position of having to save his life, over and over, witnessing the boy and his father participating in the cruel realities of slave-era plantation life.

I found this to be a fascinating setup, which prompted a lot of questions. If she doesn’t save his life, monstrous as it sometimes is, she’ll never be born. But what to do when her life in the South gets so horrific that non-existence would be preferable?

Her relationship with Rufus–the boy she originally saves–is thornier yet. How much can she allow herself to hold against him, raised as he was? Can he be changed? Can he actually ever see her as more than an educated black whose learning has her “putting on airs” and “occasionally forgetting [her] place?”

Butler typically writes science fiction, I have found, and most of her books have something to do with issues of race, enslavement, or both. But in Kindred it’s completely overt and set in America. The only science fiction element of the novel is the time travel.

Things get really interesting when her white husband winds up traveling back with her, but beyond that, I can’t say a whole lot without starting to spoil things for you.

A wonderful read that is often quite difficult emotionally. Slavery was an abomination and Butler treats it exactly like that.

I’m currently reading her book Parable of the Sower, which I’m also loving.

Any Octavia Butler fans here? The more I learn about her, the more impressed I am. She was a writer that many other writers and readers revered.

Also, I read Kidnred on audio, and it was a great audiobook.

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  • Heather September 29, 2011, 10:34 am

    I have quite a bit of her stuff in my stacks here at school, and Parable of the Sower sounds fascinating! Usually, though, when I get to a point where I think I’ll have time to read it, some kid has beat me to the punch.

  • cinderkeys September 30, 2011, 11:52 pm

    Would love to see reviews of Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents when you’re through with them. I’ve read many (most?) of Octavia Butler’s books, but these were the ones that stuck with me the most.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 1, 2011, 12:31 pm

      Will do. Sower is one of the most beautiful, bleak books I’ve read. And I’m listening to it on audio, and I think I’m in love with whoever is reading it.