Kindred by Octavia E Butler
|Kindred by Octavia E Butler|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A 1970s African American woman time-slips back to 19th century Maryland in this riveting read by an acclaimed author.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: March 2014|
Life is a nightmare for black women (and indeed men) back in the southern USA in 1815. For Dana that's just history as she lives over a century away with her husband in their new LA apartment. However one day everything changes: Dana starts to feel faint, the edges of her modern life blur and she's back in the era that can take more than her liberty. She knows her time travel is somehow linked to plantation owner's son Rufus but that doesn't help. In fact its knowledge that could make matters worse.
American writer Octavia Estelle Butler (1947 – 2006) is best known for her superlative science fiction novels such as the Lilith's Blood trilogy. However, Kindred stands out from her back catalogue, there being no science in it (as Octavia herself pointed out).
There's also no preamble. As soon as we start reading we're in there, marvelling at Dana's new unwanted ability and learning about the characters as we go. Dana and her husband Kevin are both ordinary 1970s people, something that makes the story all the more credible and easy for us to empathise with, especially once the full connotations hit.
Indeed Octavia thought this through and shows us all the emotional complications as well as the physical and historical. Each time Dana is pulled through time towards her kindred spirit the stakes are increased and the jeopardy levels rise. The time-slip element may be fantasy but the problems she faces mirror 19th century true world history, making it seem all the more urgent and engrossing. Even the slight plot hole connected with Dana's final return home doesn't spoil the story. (I won't spoil it myself!)
Via Dana's trips we watch Rufus grow to adulthood, allowing us to hope that he'll become a man of integrity and compassion as opposed to turning out like his mercurially tempered father. In between visits we also learn more about Dana and Kevin, retracing the roots of their relationship; a relationship that would never have been permitted in certain US states even a decade before this story was written.
This, in the end, is the point. Octavia was sending Dana back to an extreme example of a racist society so that we see the absurdity and cruelty of enforced second class citizenship. She didn't need to send us (or Dana) back that far to show its existence. (Indeed it's not even limited to America's past.) But by showing us this extreme juxtaposition the author encourages us to examine it afresh.
As Octavia herself said … people really need to think about what it's like to have all society arrayed against you. Indeed this is a story that's as thought provoking as it is entertaining, putting it above the time-slip ilk of writers like Diana Gabaldon. This is definitely a novel deserving of its status as a classic of black literature.
We'd very much like to thank Headline for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If this appeals then we also highly recommend a modern black literary classic in the making: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis.
You can read more book reviews or buy Kindred by Octavia E Butler at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Kindred by Octavia E Butler at Amazon.com.
Kindred by Octavia E Butler is in the Top Ten Fantasy Novels of 2014.
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