Saturday, 29 November 2014

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Published: February 1st 2004 by Beacon Press (first published 1979)
Genre: Science Fiction
Goodreads Summary: 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 stay grows 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.


*My review is kind of spoilerish*

Kindred by the late Octavia Butler is one of these book I think everybody need to read at least once in their lifetime.  Even if you're not into science fiction book or if you don't like story dealing with slavery, I truly encourage you to give Kindred a shot. The story is simple yet so complex. There's a meaning behind every simple sentences Mrs Butler wrote, behind every action her characters undertook. 

The book opens on Dana an Afro-American who's at the hospital because her arm has mysteriously been amputated. Since she live with her boyfriend, the police thinks he played butcher with her arm. They couldn't be further away from the truth. How Dana came to lose her arm is far more complicated and unbelievable.

As the heroine, a twenty-six-year-old struggling writer is unpacking her stuffs in her new home, a queer thing occurs. She's transported to a place she doesn't know. There, she meets a little boy named Rufus about to set fire to his house as a way to express his anger at his father. Like the sensible grown-up she is, Dana stops him. 

She then starts talking with him. However, their discussion is cut short, as she is sent back to her own home. Terrified, Dana tries to hide at house to prevent any further disappearance, but it doesn't work.  A few days later, she goes missing once again. She meets with the same boy, now a couple of years older. This time, she saves him from drowning in a lake. As the boy's mother rushes to him and violently slaps Dana for no reason, the young woman unexpectedly returns home.

However, she isn't out of the woods, yet. She'll keep on swinging between her life and the boy's. To her dismay and astonishment, she realizes that Rufus' home isn't just in a different state but in a different time as well. He lives in a pre civil war Plantation in Maryland. Yep, you read right. Dana is sent to Rufus' time whenever he's in danger. The problem is that the boy put himself in dicey situation on a daily basis. He's literally a danger to himself. And guess what catch 22 is?

 Rufus is Dana's ancestor, if she doesn't keep him alive that means she won't exit. As she saves him, Dana is saving herself at the same time, therefore, there's no way she can opt out of the time travel. Furthermore, Dana can only return to her world when she believes she’s in imminent danger of death.

In other words, she has absolutely no control over her time travel. As a result, she will have to live as a slave and her boyfriend who is a white man will be dragged into her perilous journey.

Every time Dana goes back to the plantation, Rufus is older. The story spans from his boyhood until his adulthood. Or even better said, spans from the time when he’s a sweet but careless boy to the period when he becomes a tyrannical, delusional and weak man.

I consider that Kindred isn’t truly a science fiction book. The time travelling thingy is an excuse for the late Mrs Butler to explore slavery and the relationship between master and slave.What Butler showed is that the master-slave dynamic is far more complex than we in the present day could imagine. White masters used, flouted and humiliated their black slaves yet they were also dependant on them. 

Rufus is a prime example of that. As a young boy, the black slaves in his household were his friends. They comforted him, made him feel better about himself. Furthermore, Dana’s presence had a positive influence in his life. Rufe is an emotional wreaking ball, but without his great-great-great-great daughter, he would have been even more of a mess.

Then, as he became older, he affirmed and exerted his manhood on the female slaves around him. And I mean that sentence in it deepest sense. Thanks to slavery Rufus can fell like the strong men he isn’t, he has money and he’s most likely highly regarded by society.

Rufus might not have been the nicest of character, but he was very interesting. His evolution was really intriguing. Maybe it was because like Dana I hoped he would grow into a respectable man, but I thought it was difficult to gauge what type of person he would become.  There were hints here and there, but Butler never gave anything away, until the latest part of the book.

The slaves also had their part to play. All of them, even the minor one were important to the story. Everything they said and did add a little something. Usually, in a book, there’s always one or two characters who don’t matter. If you remove them, the story won’t suffer much. But in Kindred it would be impossible to do that. Cutting off one character would be akin to maiming the story somehow. That’s how much they were important, to me anyway.

Oh I haven’t talked about Dana yet, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to say about her. Actually, it’s quite the contrary. 

Now, that I’m seating down writing this review and that I’m seriously mulling over it, I realize that Dana is probably one of my favourite literary heroines. She was compassionate, strong, intelligent and relatable. There was nothing over the top about her. Even thought, she clearly had an amazing inner strength, it wasn’t as if she was some sort of superhuman. Also, she wasn’t unbelievably smart.

The only characters I hated were Rufus’ parents. They were self righteous, racist (obviously), hypocrite, tasteless, despicable and petty. Uggh! Really, these two didn’t have any redeeming quality.

For those who might be put off by Kindred, because they’re afraid it’ll be too painful or gruesome to read. I have to tell you guys to not worry. Butler isn’t a writer who relied on sensationalism to grasp readers. She didn’t shed a character’s blood just for the sake of it. Unsettling scenes were poignant, sometime even somewhat gross but there were never repulsive or gore. Personally, there was nothing I read where I was like “That’s it, I can’t handle it anymore.”

I think that Octavia Butler was such a talented and intelligent writer that she was able to depict slavery accurately and extensively without completely freaking readers out.

Did I love Kindred? Would I recommend it? Do I think Octavia E. Butler is a great writer Hmmmm, let me think...Yes, yes and yes to all of this!! 

By the way, I definitely encourage people to check out Butler’s work. After I finished Kindred, I read Dawn almost straight away, and I was blown away. And yeah, a review of that book is coming soon!


  1. Carla - I haven't read this yet because I'm going to read this book (hopefully sometime this decade) e_e but I did want to say I nominated you for the Sisterhood Of The World blogger's award, so I hope you have fun with that!

  2. Thank You so much for the nomination! Read Kindred, I promise you won't be disappointed.

  3. I will definitely try reading this book as it comes so highly recommended. I don't mind reading about slavery - I even recently finished reading 12 years a slave. I also think it is good to read a complex book that brings across many themes in it as well. I like the idea of it also being simple - something a more straightforward reader could also enjoy. It sounds like it really has it all!

  4. Do read Kindred! Octavia Butler was a truly gifted writer, I'm sure you'll enjoy her book. How was 12 years a slave? Are you going to post a review of it on your blog?


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