Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Posted December 30, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews / 10 Comments

Review: Kindred by Octavia ButlerKindred by Octavia Butler
Published by Beacon Press on 2004 (25th Anniversary Edition)
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 287
Source: my shelves

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Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

(from the back cover)

I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred back in September as part of A More Diverse Universe. I was supposed to review it in September, too, but that’s right about the time I got disenchanted with sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. I think I’m finally over that phase, though, so ONWARD!

This was my first reading experience with Octavia Butler, and it was a good one. A great one, even. I cannot believe I hadn’t read anything by Octavia Butler before. This book tends to get classified as Science fiction (because that is mainly what Butler wrote), but the only thing scifi about it is the time travel. Kindred is really about Dana and her husband learning what it was like to live during the era of slavery in the United States. I word it that way because Dana and her husband are an interracial couple–Dana is black, and her husband is white. This put an interesting spin on their relationship–and what they learned–when they were thrown/called back into the past. Dana is continuously swept back into the past to save the son of a plantation owner; not only must she deal with being black in a place that views black people as nothing but property to be used, but she also has to come to terms with helping the very people who wish to degrade her. On the other hand, when Dana’s husband decides to go with her into the past, he has to come to terms with being a white man at a time when he is not allowed to treat his own wife as his equal without putting them both–but predominately Dana–in serious danger.

Dana is the one who obviously bears the brunt of learning to survive on a plantation. When she is called back into the past, it doesn’t matter that she’s really a modern black woman. She must learn to devalue herself–at least outwardly–in order to survive. And there’s a twist to the story and her ultimate survival: two of the people on the plantation are her ancestors, and Dana has to ensure that they have the child that will become her direct ancestor (maybe great-great-grandmother?). If that child isn’t conceived and born, Dana won’t exist.

This is a very moving story. In an interview, Octavia Butler said, “I was trying to get people to feel slavery. I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.” She certainly accomplished that goal with Kindred. Butler’s writing is wonderful, and aside from the time travel, the story felt very realistic to me. It caused me to go through a wide range of emotions.

And the cover of the edition I read (pictured above) is just gorgeous.

Kindred is a book that covers so many bases: it’s loved by Science fiction fans, as well as used in African-American history courses and women’s studies. I highly recommend Kindred to anyone interested in any of those subjects.

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  • Ooooooooh this one sounds really good too! I love the idea of finding out as close to the truth as to what slavery actually was like, and with that twist of the interracial couple. . . the book just seems like it would be eye-opening!

    And I’m glad you’re back to blogging! You’ve been missed!

    • I know for sure you’d like this one. And thank you–you’re wonderful. I’ve missed blogging!

  • I read this book with my book club several years back. I remember it being a VERY interesting read. I was so confused at first when she did the time travel. lol. I might have to pull my book back out and refresh my memory of the story.

  • Kindred was my first Octavia Butler read as well and I was mad at myself for taking so long to read it. It was such a stunning novel. I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1979 and not recently.

  • therelentlessreader

    I’m so glad you’re blogging more again, yay! This book sounds pretty darn fascinating btw!

  • Certainly fascinating, Heather. Though, I would never have thought that scifi would mix so well with historical issues of slavery. A wonderful review. I take this o;pportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year. 🙂

    • The time travel fits well because it just…happens…without Dana asking it to. Whenever the plantation owner’s son is in serious danger, she gets sucked back in time to save him. We’re led to believe that it’s because they have some kind of ancestral connection. It isn’t overdone, so it fits.

      Happy New Year, Celestine!

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  • I read a review about this on someone’s blog ages ago (can’t remember which blog now!) and thought it sounded really good. I just checked on my wish list and it’s still there. Think I’ll bump it up a bit further now! Thanks for the review!

  • I really have to read this book. I’ve read a lot of reviews of it now and everyone just seem to love it!