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Kindred Hardcover – February 1, 2009
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"Butler's characters are so vivid and the racist milieu in which they struggle to survive so realistically depicted that one cannot finish Kindred without feeling changed. It is a shattering work of art with much to say about love, hate, slavery, and racial dilemmas, then and now."—Sam Frank, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
"Like emotion that uplifts and enriches, like exquisite music or the taste of some special candy remembered from childhood, I never wanted Kindred to end. It overwhelmed me, dominated me, drew me on page after page. To express my total admiration and wonder for the originality of this surpassingly compelling novel, I am driven to a despised cliché: I could not put it down! It is a book that simply will not be denied; its power is hypnotic. Kindred is a story that hurts: I take that to be the surest indicator of genuine Art. It is an important novel, filled with powerful human insight and the shocking impact of the most commonplace experiences viewed in a new way, and it demands that once begun, the reader continue till it has done its work on the heart and mind and soul. Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare, magical artifact . . . the novel one returns to, again and again, through the years, to learn, to be humbled, and to be renewed. Do not, I beg you, deny yourself this singular experience."—Harlan Ellison
"Truly terrifying. . . . A book you'll find hard to put down." —Essence
"Butler's books are exceptional. . . . She is a realist, writing the most detailed social criticism and creating some of the most fascinating female characters in the genre . . . real women caught in impossible situations." —Dorothy Allison, The Village Voice
"Butler's literary craftsmanship is superb." —The Washington Post Book World
"Her books are disturbing, unsettling… In a field dominated by white male authors, Butler's African-American feminist perspective is unique, and uniquely suited to reshape the boundaries of the sci-fi genre." —Bill Glass, L. A. Style
"One of the most original, thought-provoking works examining race and identity." —Lynell George, Los Angeles Times
"This powerful novel about a modern black woman transported back in time to a slave plantation in the antebellum South is the perfect introduction to Butler's work and perspectives for those not usually enamored of science fiction. . .A harrowing, haunting story." —John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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Top Customer Reviews
KINDRED is one of those rare novels that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go until the very end. From the first sentence, Butler's simple, straightforward prose moves the story quickly making it nearly impossible for the reader to put down.
Dana, a black woman living in Los Angeles in 1976, is inexplicably transported to 1815 to save the life of a small, red-haired boy on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It turns out this small boy, Rufus, is one of her white slave owning ancestors, who she knows very little about. Dana continues to be called into the past to save Rufus, and frequently stays long periods of time in the slave owning South. The only way she can get back to 1976 is to be in a life threatening situation. During her stays in the past she is forced to assume the role of a slave to survive. She is whipped. She is beaten. She is nearly raped, twice. She is forced to watch whippings and families being broken up. She learns to enjoy hard work as an escape from the other horrors of slave life. And she watches as a fairly unassuming small son of a plantation owner grows up to be a cruel, capricious, hot-tempered slave owner in his own right. And to be her great-grandfather many generations removed.
KINDRED is about slavery and the scars it has inflicted on American society. There are really three key factors Butler focuses on that reveal the ability of the South to institutionalize slavery. First there is the physical abuse. The constant work, especially the physically exhausting work of a field hand, kept slaves too tired to run or become insolent. Being ever on the verge of a lash or two for minor offenses kept slaves working to avoid punishment. Being beaten nearly to death after escape attempts made a slave reluctant to try again; especially if this is coupled with the abuse of the slave's family. Then there is the psychological abuse. The continual threat of being beaten or watching others be beaten broke the spirits of those in bondage. The worst punishment was sometimes having to watch a family member abused for your transgression. Encouraging slaves to marry and have children also deadened their desire to escape. Families made the slave settle down, gave him or her something to protect and care for. The selling off of a few family members had a damping effect on a slave's spirit. A most poignant example is the slave Sarah, the primary house slave; "Weylin had sold only three of her children, left her one to live for and protect". She rarely questioned slavery, thought little of freedom, because "she had lost all she could stand to lose". The risk of losing the one daughter she had left was too great. Slaves that escaped had to be willing to risk not only their own life but possibly the lives of their family.
The physical and psychological abuse imposed on the slave made it so much easier to accept one's lot in life and avoid the unpleasantries that recalcitrance entailed. The ease with which Dana falls into the routines of everyday life as a slave shocks her. Work is a refuge from the other toils of slave life and the patterns become the norm. There is even an ambiguous feeling toward the slave owner. The slave owner is hated for the physical and psychological abuse imposed on the slave. But at the same time the slave loved the owner in a familial sense, even though the slave owner was seldom worthy of this. Thus slavery became for many the accepted norm of life, even if this acceptance was a tenuous and unhappy one at best. This acceptance was generational. Dana at one point espies children playing at selling each other on the auction block and haggling over price.
Many times throughout history sheer terror has been used to subdue a population and sap it of its strength. One only has to look at the Tsar's of Russia like Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin to realize the extent to which terror can be used to subjugate a people. The Southern aristocracy of the United States practiced a similar terror till 1864 and beyond.
There is much historical evidence for the Butler's depiction of slavery and its effects. KINDRED is patterned after the slave narratives becoming more widely read today. These include Frederick Douglass' NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, AN AMERICAN SLAVE and Harriet A. Jacobs INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL. Butler could have depicted the beatings and physical abuse in more graphic detail to have a greater impact on the reader.
Slavery even has its effects in 1976. The scars Dana brings back to 1976 are symbolic of the scars slavery has left on contemporary society. Some will heal with time. Some can never heal. Others will scab over and be just below the surface. But they are all there. But in another sense healing has taken place. Dana is married to a white man, Kevin, who is transported to 1815 with her once. While there they both fall easily into the pattern or act of slave owner and slave concubine, roles they must assume to survive. The ease with which they fall into these roles brings about a greater consciousness of their ethnicity. But through this relationship Butler leaves the reader with hope. Dana's love for Kevin is what really pulls her through the most harrowing terrors she faces and in the end gives her the strength to survive this horrible test.
KINDRED is written at the young adult level and moves along at a brisk pace. I highly recommend it for teenagers and adults.
"Kindred" was, for many years, required reading at Muir. It was through this connection that I was introduced to her writing by my daughter. She is my youngest son's favorite author, a tribute to her ability to transcend gender, race, and age in presenting ideas that no one else could ever have imagined. We were looking forward to meeting her as part of Pasadena's "One City, One Story" program which had chosen "Kindred" as this year's selection.
Butler was certainly not a "black author" in any limiting sense at all. She blasted open the SciFi gates of gender and color with her extraordinary vision, imagination, and courage. The choice of "Kindred" is a fitting tribute to the diversity of her hometowns of Pasadena and Altadena and the Pasadena Unifed School District in which she was educated.
It is rare that a passing of someone I have not personally met so saddens me. She is in a world without limits now.
"Kindred" tells the story of Dana, a 20th century African-American woman who is married to a white man. Throughout the book Dana is mysteriously thrust back and forth in time between her world and the world of her ancestors in the 19th century. She seems to be tied to one ancestor in particular: Rufus, the white son of a slaveowning family. Part of Dana's struggle is to deal with the utterly alien world of Rufus' slaveowning culture.
Butler brilliantly weaves many powerful themes into this gripping story: violence, sexual desire, race, literacy, language, law, and education. The story is peopled with well-developed characters who have complex, interconnected relationships. Butler vividly evokes how the slave system both physically brutalized blacks and psychologically warped whites.
Butler's prose is lean and muscular. She grips you from the stark opening lines: "I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm." The story is richly ironic and heartbreaking. "Kindred" is a compelling 20th century literary descendant of such important 19th century slave autobiographies as "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" and Harriet Jacobs' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl"; it is also a significant "sister" text to 20th century works (like Toni Morrison's "Beloved") which also revisit the era of slavery. But Butler's ingenious use of a classic science fiction device (i.e. time travel) sets the book apart from all of these other literary explorations of slavery. Whether for classrooms, book reading circles, or individual readers, "Kindred" is a triumph to be treasured.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The dialogue was a little "on the nose" but it didn't make it difficult to read.