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Kindred Paperback – February 1, 2004
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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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.—Harlan Ellison
"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
"In Kindred, Octavia Butler creates a road for the impossible and a balm for the unbearable. It is everything the literature of science fiction can be." —Walter Mosley
"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, Village Voice
"Butler's literary craftsmanship is superb."—Washington Post Book World
"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
"No other work of fantasy or science fiction writings brings the intimate environment of the antebellum South to life better than Octavia E. Butler's Kindred." —Kevin Weston, San Francisco Chronicle
"A celebrated mainstay of college courses in women's studies and black literature and culture; some colleges require it as mandatory freshman reading." —Linell Smith, The Baltimore Sun
"Kindred is as much a novel of psychological horror as it is a novel of science fiction. . .a work of art whose individual accomplishment defies categorization." —Barbara Strickland, The Austin Chronicle
"A startling and engrossing commentary on the complex actuality and continuing heritage of American slavery." —Sherley Anne Williams, Ms.
"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
About the Author
Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was the author of many novels, including Dawn, Wild Seed, andParable of the Sower. She was the recipient of a MacArthur Award and a Nebula Award, and she twice won the Hugo Award.
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In Kindred, Dana, a modern young African American writer who recently married an older white man, gets mysteriously transported back in time to a pre-Civil War plantation owned by the family of her oldest known relative, Rufus. Dana is called back to save Rufus’s life over and over again, presumably preserving her own life in the process. What happens to her in the past stays with her in a very real way.
This novel is incredible. I couldn’t put it down. It was written in 1979, but it could have been written last year. Elements of Butler’s own life and frustrations with race issues during her life shine through in parts.
This novel deals with love, familial connection, loss, time travel, slavery, and the complex emotions that arise when these things interconnect. To quote Dana:
"Strangely, they seemed to like him, hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time. This confused me because I felt just about the same mixture of emotions for him myself. I had thought my feelings were complicated because he and I had such a strange relationship. But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships. Only the overseer drew simple, unconflicting emotions of hatred and fear when he appeared briefly. But then, it was part of the overseer’s job to be hated and feared while the master kept his hands clean."
This is a great book. It makes the deep personal toll slavery takes on its victims very real. I’m seeking out more of Octavia Butler’s books in the near future.
Not reading Kindred as soon as I bought it was a big mistake. It turns out I love this book. I mean I really love it. If you’re read time travel books and like them, very few can compete with Kindred, well The Devil’s Arithmetic is excellent.
The Power of Kindred
The book is gripping, emotional, and rooted in reality. Dana, an educated black woman married to a white man in 1976, is pulled back in time to 1815 Maryland. Rufus, her great great grandfather, is a slave owner and a child when she firsts meets him.
When Dana learns Rufus is an ancestor, I immediately thought he would be a man who lived above the culture of his time, but as Dana is pulled back to Rufus, he’s behavior is typical of slave owners. I wanted him to change and become the man I imagined, but he didn’t.
As the years pass, he becomes more and more like his father and those around him. I think the power of this story is the reality and harsh truth that culture and mores help shape us and few rise above their time.
As I became more acquainted with life on the plantation, with the position of field slaves and house slaves, with the brutality of slave owners and slave overseers, I found myself experiencing life through Dana’s experiences. Her life on the plantation becomes reality, more so than 1976 because Dana spends little time in her present.
The beauty of Butler’s style is that although I’m white, I could easily relate to Dana, and so when she travels back in time to 1815, her experience on the plantation becomes mine. It’s the kind of story that stays with you long after you close the book.
For me, the power is in the story of those on the plantation and their limits. This isn’t Tara of Gone with the Wind seen through white eyes. It’s real. Not just the dangers, but the everyday life. The moments of hope mixed with the horrors that such a culture brings.
Dana is limited in how she can respond, and yet, her relationship with Rufus gives her some freedoms she wouldn’t have had. Late in the book, a reader learns that her relationship with Rufus also colored and shaped the way the other slaves saw and judged her.
The time travel and how it works is never explained, which worked for me. It just happened. Readers know it is Rufus who pulls her back. Each time he’s either near death or has gotten himself into deep trouble, and Dana saves him. While the people on the plantation age, Dana doesn’t. She might be home for hours or days before she is pulled back again, but time on the plantation moves forward until Rufus’ death.
Okay, I love this story so much, that I dismiss the negatives some people bring up, but here’s a list of some critiques.
1) Dana and racism: some critics point out that as a black woman, she would have experienced racism in 1976. I agree, she would have, but I was born and raised in and near Los Angeles. Even in 1976, an educated person in Los Angeles wouldn’t experience the “in-your-face” kind of racism found in this book. Mixed marriages might have been unusual in other parts of the US, but not in Southern California. From my experience growing up, I didn’t have a problem with Dana’s reactions to racism.
2) Dana didn’t do anything to change the time or the people. This critique surprises me. Would we really want someone going back in time and mucking around with history? Dana focused on Rufus and tried to influence him to become a better man. As it turns out her efforts were a lost cause. Kevin helped slaves escape to freedom.
For me, these are two ordinary people who have to find a way to live in a hostile and “foreign” land. If they started spouting prophecies about the future or trying to invent future technology, who knows what would have happened to them and the future.
3) Some people complain they didn’t know Dana was black. The cover sort of gives it away without the author telling us on page one.
Okay, I’m being a little snarky. I’m that way when someone criticizes Firefly too.
Go read the book!