Kindred by Octavia Butler

1979. 264 pages. Paperback. Beacon Press.

From: public library

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Dana, a young black woman, is moving into a new apartment with her husband in 1976 when she is suddenly transported to another place and time.  There she saves a young boy from drowning, and is quickly returned to her own time.  She is involuntarily taken back in time again later, again to save the same boy, Rufus, who is now years older.  Dana realizes then that this is the antebellum South and that Rufus is her ancestor, the white son of a plantation owner on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Through Dana’s repeated trips back in time, she comes to know all the members of the plantation, the free and the slaves.  Dana’s relationship with her ancestor is an increasingly fraught one, especially as Dana knows her existence is due to Rufus fathering a child with Alice, a slave woman.

Review:

I had read only one book by Octavia Butler before: the odd vampire story, Fledgling.  That book had some intriguing ideas but left me with mixed feelings.  I have no mixed feelings about Kindred.  I adore it.  It’s one of those books where I wanted to re-read it immediately after finishing it.

First off, my word, what a premise.  After reading this, I told my friend and also my sister about this book and they were immediately intrigued.  And fortunately Kindred more than fulfills the promise of its story idea. There is so much that is packed into this novel.  It really delves into the complexity of race relations, cultural memory, how to live life in the face of cruelty.  And yet Kindred never seems dense.  Rather, the pages flew by as I was sucked into the tension of the tale.

A huge part of the tension for me was how the time-travel affected Dana’s relationship with her husband Kevin.  On one of her trips back in time, Kevin grabs onto her and is also transported back.  As Kevin is white, he tries to offer protection to Dana by pretending to be her master, but it’s a tricky business.  Also, the couple must face the possibility that Dana will go back to her own time and Kevin may be left behind.  (For they learn that they can spend months in the past, and yet only a few hours may have passed in their own time, 1976.)

All the characters feel fleshed out.  Their interactions with Dana feel human, based on moods and context, rather than responses of character ‘types.’  Dana’s relationship with her ancestor Alice was filled with both conflict and attachment, so that another woman commented that the two “fought like sisters.”

With a scary climax and a satisfying resolution, the book ends very well.  Kindred is certainly one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  I highly recommend it!

Other reviews:

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8 Comments

Filed under Fantasy, Supernatural & Surreal

8 responses to “Kindred by Octavia Butler

  1. I must admit that I, too, am intrigued. It seems like a hard premise to pull off or make convincing…but it sounds like it was completely successful.

  2. Nice review! Thanks for the link.

  3. I’m intrigued by this one. I haven’t read anything by Butler before. Fledgling seems to have had mixed reviews, so it sounds as though Kindred is a better place for me to start.

  4. I’m SO glad that I own this book. Now I just have to read it 😛

  5. Erin – yes, isn’t it such a tantalizing idea for a story?

    Gavin – you’re definitely welcome!

    Jackie – yes, I recommend starting with Kindred

    nymeth – definitely check it out!

  6. nice review. i’m glad you enjoyed it so much! i have Fledgling on my pile to read, but i keep hearing that it doesn’t compare to Kindred. either way, i’ll pick it up one of these days.

    and thanks for the link!

  7. I’ve heard so many good things about Butler, but have yet to read a book by her. This sounds like a concept that would be so easy to get really wrong, so I’m glad it got it right. I’ll have to bump her up the list somehow

  8. little reader: yeah, I definitely did not have the same level of response to Fledgling as I did to Kindred.

    Fence: I’m glad that many people have at least heard of Butler. I might read Parable of the Sower at some point as that’s the other one of hers I’ve heard some about.

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