Updated: Feb 22, 2021
I received Kindred in The Feminist Book Club book box subscription. I had heard of this book, but I credit FBC for getting it in my hands and encouraging me to read it. I am so glad I did, because I am officially an Octavia Butler fan and cannot wait to read more from her. The fact that Kindred was written over 40 years ago, yet feels timely, is a true testament to Octavia Butler's writing. It is truly remarkable for a book to be able to stand the test of time.
Set in modern day (mid-1970's) California, a young Black woman named Dana is celebrating her 26th birthday in her new home with her husband, when she is mysteriously transported through time and space to an 1800's antebellum South. She meets Rufus, the young son of the white plantation owner, who she soon learns is the reason she gets summoned to this alternate universe. Dana is drawn back again and again, for longer and longer stints, forced into slavery, and put in even more dangerous situations. She grapples with the purpose for these time travel stints and how she can protect herself in this dangerous world, while struggling to help her ancestors.
Kindred is a powerful story that I was immediately consumed with. Dana is resilient as she faces the incredible hardships Black folks faced during slavery. I kept thinking how impressive it was that Dana just got right to work to figure out why this was happening and how she could make it stop. She didn't take time to pity herself and wonder, why me? She showed action and tenacity, even figured out a way she could bring modern day goods back with her.
Kindred begins with a chapter that foreshadows that Dana somehow loses an arm during her bouts of time travel. It is left up to the reader to speculate how this happens. That piece of the story is incredibly telling, especially if you read the author's note where Butler describes that Dana could not come back "whole" from that experience. The history of slavery is one of brutal terror, both physical and mental, with the constant breaking of the human psyche. Dana exhibits this as each trip back she gets more and more complacent in her "role" on the plantation. The stark contrasts between Dana's modern day world and the antebellum south are jarring and something worth reflecting on. In the mid-1970's, Dana is married to a white man. While, during that time, they still got looks, opinions, and critics, but in the late 1800's that was completely unheard of and looked down upon. Dana has to hide her marriage, when her husband ends up coming with her during one bout of time travel. They have to quickly switch roles from husband/wife to master/slave. That piece of the story alone is something I cannot stop thinking about.
I thought Kindred was a masterpiece and I look forward to reading more from Butler. I would love recommendations on what to try next, so please reach out!
"Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of 'wrong' ideas."
"That educated didn't mean smart. He had a point. Nothing in my education or knowledge of the future had helped me to escape. Yet in a few years an illiterate runaway named Harriet Tubman would make nineteen trips into this country and lead three hundred fugitives to freedom."
"Slavery was a long slow process of dulling."
Content warning: graphic violence, slavery, racism, death, sexual assault