Kindred by Octavia Butler takes you back in time. It is not just historical fiction, but one that involves some time travelling (not the sci-fi kind).
For Dana, a regular night is turned upside down when inexplicably she travels back in time to save a young boy from drowning. Then just as mystifyingly, she’s back at her home with a time lapse of just a few seconds. If her husband wasn’t there to witness her disappearance, who would have believed her?
She keeps going back and forth to the same place and realises how her own life is linked to the people she meets on her ‘travels’.
“As a kind of castaway myself, I was happy to escape into the fictional world of someone else’s trouble.”
It’s not easy to do a Kindred book review. Slavery in the antebellum South of the United States was a time of unspeakable horrors and dehumanisation of an entire race. It was perpetrated not just by the White men, as most often portrayed, but also by the White women who instigated the violence. Kindred covers that aspect well.
“He wasn’t a monster at all. Just an ordinary man who sometimes did the monstrous things his society said were legal and proper.”
The main characters, as well as some of the secondary characters have been fleshed out skilfully with their own nuances. It’s also interesting to witness their life trajectories from the time Dana meets them, to the last time she hears about them.
I haven’t read any Octavia Butler books so I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I was quite impressed with the way she has integrated time travel into the story. Positioning a current-day Black woman into the era of slavery who is beholden to a White ancestor, is a unique perspective.
“She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little.”
The Kindred book ending was sort of expected, but heartbreaking nonetheless. So many strong willed, independent minds and lives squandered; so many potentials squashed.
Apart from the racism, the story also brings forth the sexism that was rampant in those days, both of which we still encounter in some form a century later.
“Slavery was a long slow process of dulling.”
The Kindred book club questions at the end are quite helpful in that they make you think deeper into the themes and feelings of the book. Even if you’re not part of a book club, I’d suggest you don’t skip that part.
The theme is based on slave narratives and the sci-fi part of the story takes a back seat at times. Whenever you have a book on slave memoirs, it overpowers the rest of the theme. It’s hard to get past the scenes of graphic violence and language.
The writing is easy to read (no big words to distract) and the imagery is detailed enough for you to get a good visual of how it would’ve been like.
“Better to stay alive,” I said. “At least while there’s a chance to get free.” I thought of the sleeping pills in my bag and wondered just how great a hypocrite I was. It was so easy to advise other people to live with their pain.”
This book manages to remind you of the parallel worlds and the dilemma of a present-day young couple when faced with the realities of slavery. Like Dana says, it was painful enough to read about it in history books, but to actually witness is something no one can prepare you for.
“.. I never realised how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
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