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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler


Kindred

I almost don’t know where to start talking about Kindred. It’s emotionally challenging yet deceptively easy to read. It combines straightforward prose with horrific themes. I was totally engaged reading it, but was left feeling wanting. My heart wants to passionately recommend it, but my brain is slightly more reserved.

On her 26th birthday, in 1976, Dana, a young black woman, is pulled abruptly from her life in California into early nineteenth-century Maryland. She’s thrown back into this society where slavery is the norm. That the consequences of this time travelling for Dana are dire is made clear in the prologue; she is going to come to serious harm. As the story resets, Dana tells it from the beginning chronicling her experiences.

The first timeslip occurs as Dana and her husband Kevin are unpacking in their new home. Their relationship in their own time is not wholly accepted. Kevin is white, and they’ve faced some opposition from both families. But, the contemporary realities that matter most are that Dana is a smart, educated woman, free to marry whom she chooses. The contrast with her status when she travels back in time could not be starker. Which is the point of the story, and makes it all the more disturbing when both Dana and Kevin too catch the rhythms and slip into their expected roles in order to survive.

I loved the practical approach the couple take towards time-travel; packing essential items to grab hold of, worrying that the shift might happen when taking a shower, reading up on the history and geography of the area. It also made me think hard about resistance and compliance, and the difference between personal survival and fighting for a wider cause. Dana’s resilience is amazing, as is her patience and endurance. But, by the end of the book I was still left with so many questions about the technical aspects of the time travelling as well as what impact Dana actually had and whether it was worth her suffering.

None of my questions detract from the brilliance of the writing; I was hooked from beginning to end. It is also a devastating portrait of slavery and the inhuman acts people are able to inflict upon those they have designated other. It’s one of those books I’d like to sit and discuss, and I’ve added Butler to my list of authors I want to read more.

My copy of Kindred came via Bookbridgr, my thanks. It is available now from Headline as an eBook and in Paperback.

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