Kindred by Octavia Butler

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Kindred
The ease. Us, the children … I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.

Dana had just moved to a new apartment with her husband, Kevin, and was helping him set up his bookshelf, when she started feeling very dizzy. The sensation was immediate and unexpected, and when she opened her eyes, she found herself in a strange place. The apartment and the books had vanished; Kevin was also nowhere near her. Instead she found herself at a riverside, staring at someone struggling in the river. Keeping her worries and questions aside, she jumped into the river and carried the nearly drowning boy to the shore. A woman came to her, wailing that her son was dead. Dana simply kept her cool, yelled at the woman to be quiet, gave the boy CPR and announced to the mother that the boy will live. The woman's husband arrived on the scene with a gun pointed at Dana's face. Terrified for her life, Dana felt the same dizziness overwhelm her and within seconds, she had arrived back at her apartment floor, muddy and not at all calm.

It took Dana one more such incident to realize that not only was she space-traveling, but she was also time-traveling - to the slavery-ridden South of the 1800s in Baltimore.

I know Kindred is a very popular book in the book blogging community. I must have seen it double-digit times, ever since I started blogging but historical fiction isn't something I enjoy reading by default. It takes a lot more for me to start reading a book shelved in that section. Still, when I saw Kindred on sale in Amazon, and having just bought my new Kindle, I bought it. I did plan to read it eventually. On the plane ride to Miami, I picked up Kindred to kick off the vacation.

I loved this book from the first page. It was very readable, very engrossing and the plot is very interesting. Dana is a black woman used to the luxuries and the liberties of the 1970s. Her husband Kevin is white. The south of the 1800s is however, not a safe place for Dana. A black woman walking about is in plenty of danger, so Dana has to keep her wits around her as she navigated the treacherous terrain of the south. Initially, it is a mystery how she can ever get back but later she discovers the displeasing trigger.

All her time travels seem to be when a particular white boy and later man, Rufus, is in life-threatening danger. Rufus happens to be one of her ancestors and Dana understands the importance of keeping him alive. But there are several unexplained mysteries, such as why the time travel is even happening, how is she able to travel in time and space, how does it affect her aging seeing as she could have spend days and months in the past and not more than a few hours have passed in the present.

There is so much to like in Kindred and not enough space in this blog to talk about. Butler's writing is very engaging. It's descriptive, thoughtful and lyrical. I liked how Butler kept the plot focused on the story itself and not on the mechanics of the time travel. I love reading time travel for its hows and whys and whens, but for Kindred, it made perfect sense not to delve into all that. The ending also doesn't tie up all the loose ends - we are just like Dana, we see what she sees, we hear what she hears. But at the end, we are just as stymied as she is - why did all this happen? What happened to some of the people she bonded with. In the end, Kindred isn't about what happened to whom. It is about slavery itself and how it was never good for anyone. How it left you a changed person, and we do find out in the end that slavery did leave a very physical mark on Dana.

Kindred also gives a great insight into life as a slave, and what better way to see it than through the eyes of someone coming from the future. Even though she knew enough about how her ancestors lived, experiencing it first hand calls for more than just knowledge - when she gets beaten, she needed to stop herself from fighting. When Rufus' mother takes great pleasure in verbally abusing her, she had to rein back in all the vehement retorts piling at the tip of her tongue.

I wish I had read Kindred in time for Aarti's A More Diverse Universe, but better late than never. If you haven't given this book a chance yet, you absolutely should. I know I wanted to gush more about this book and share a lot more thoughts that I bookmarked in my head but right now, I can only think that this book was super amazing and I wish I was just going to read it again for the first time. Dana's time travel would have really come in handy now.


This book is from my personal library.

8 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

I've seen this one around a lot too. It sounds like it really touched you. I need to look for it.

Athira / Aths said...

It is a really good book. I hope you get a chance to read it.

Lisa Sheppard said...

I had no idea that time travel was involved in this book - clearly I've not paid enough attention to the reviews I've read!

christa @ mental foodie said...

I kept meaning to read this but still haven't gotten around to!

Aarti said...

I'm so glad you read this book and that you enjoyed it as much as you did. I think everyone who has read it has been overwhelmed by how powerful it is. It is amazing.


I also recommend Wench, if you haven't read that one.

Athira / Aths said...

Time travel is here but it is not the focus. I would definitely not classify this as science fiction. It's more a case of it happens, now what.

Athira / Aths said...

I am sure you will love this!

Athira / Aths said...

I haven't read Wench but it is in my wishlist. I will bump it up.