I read Kindred in October of last year. It was my first Butler and a year later I’m still thinking about it. I was flipping through my journal and found my thoughts on the book, so I thought I would share them.
Dana Frankilin is a black woman living in LA with her white husband, Kevin. They are unpacking books when Dana is suddenly transported back to the antebellum south to save a boy named Rufus. Rufus, who Dana rescues from drowning, is the son of a white plantation owner. Dana is called back to help Rufus a total of 6 times. Each time her life in the south becomes more dangerous and more involved with the people who live there. Transporting between the times leaves Dana to wonder about family ties, ethics, morals, and her purposes both in modern times and in the past.
This is a book that rushed, if I didn’t stop myself and come up for air I would have devoured it. Butler’s book brings to light the complexities of the African-American experience of today; learning about slavery and ancestry and dealing with the those pains and triumphs. There are many pivotal choices that Dana has to make and Butler presents many parallels. We see the characters changing as their experiences swell and burst, they are forced to assume new identities and accept new truths. The book is about history, about breaking away from all that we thought we learned about history in order to view the players as real people with real stories. Dana is able to really learn about the slave experience. She muses that nothing she knows has prepared her for this experience. Dana learns that humans are indeed human and are capable of wonderful and terrible things. She learns that the decisions that you thought you’d make can change under a different set of circumstances. Dana and Kevin also discuss the idea that people can be conditioned to accept slavery. Even today, I think we are taught in our school texts to have a certain view and thus response to slavery. We learn to separate ourselves from it and in some instances it becomes a crutch. We may view slavery as a single experience when in fact there were complexities, ambiguities, and cold hard truths. We travel with Dana on her trips so that we can hear the cries, smell the sweat, make heart-wrenching decisions, and experience the joys. We see that it is possible to adapt to any circumstance. Dana begins to call the plantation home, she makes friends and to them she belongs. When Dana returns to LA she feels that the past is sharper, she is learning. Butler shows us that we are all connected to the past as we are products of the past.
In addition to this being my first Butler, it was also one of my first science fiction reads as an adult. I am glad for the reintroduction into science fiction and have enjoyed the immense variety. Other books that I have enjoyed by Octavia Butler are Fledgling and Bloodchild. I have others waiting and will get to them soon.
Are you still thinking about a particular book a year later?