Kindred (1979) by Octavia Butler

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” -Octavia E. Butler

kindredGrowing up in England, I wasn’t familiar with Octavia Butler’s gripping tale of slavery and time travel, Kindred. I’ve since learned that it is a text often taught in American high schools and colleges. (I envy the lucky students who get to read this book as part of their studies!) It was recommended to me by some fellow bloggers when I was making a list of essential speculative-fiction books written by female authors.

Kindred tells the story of Dana, a young African-American writer living in California in 1976. She is married to Kevin, an older Caucasian man who is also a writer. Doing my best to keep this spoiler-free, I will only mention that the plot involves time travel, a pre-Civil War plantation in the southern part of the United States, slavery, the bonds of love and family, and what people are capable of to ensure their survival.

Dana is such a well-written character, as are most of the others that feature in the story. She is a strong, intelligent woman who demonstrates bravery, quick-thinking, adaptability, and reacts well to the unusual, at times harrowing situations she finds herself in.

“I turned, startled, and found myself looking down the barrel of the longest rifle I had ever seen. I heard a metallic click, and I froze, thinking I was going to be shot” (p.14)

That “rifle” belongs to Tom Weylin, the owner of the plantation and the father of Rufus, the other main character of the book. Dana’s interactions with Rufus become increasingly interesting as the story progresses. The way the author gradually fleshes out Rufus, who could easily have been a one-dimensional stereotypical bigot, reveals Butler’s skill. Also, the way she develops the two characters’ strange connection, as well as their complicated need for each other, is wonderful.

“Don’t you ever walk away from me again!” he said. Strangely, he began to sound a little afraid. He repeated the words, spacing them, emphasizing each one. (p.214)

 

51gt9yv5jwl-_sx324_bo1204203200_There has been so much detailed literary criticism written about Kindred that I feel I have little to add apart from my opinion. So, I have kept this review very brief. My review policy is, ‘Would I recommend this book to a good friend?’ Well, in my opinion Kindred is a book that should be read by everyone. It’s a very important book, not only because of its subject but also because it is a terrific story. It is a wonderful experience when you get so caught up in a book that you don’t want to put it down. And you can’t wait until you pick it up again. It’s the kind of book that could be read in one sitting, time/work/life permitting. So thanks again to you (who know who you are) for the recommendation.

An essential read!

(Check out this Admiral Ironbomb review for more detailed analysis.)

 

Here’s one of the quotes from the back-cover:

“Butler’s books are exceptional. … She is a realist, writing the most detailed social criticism and creating some of the most fascinating female characters in the genre … real women caught in impossible situations.” –Dorothy Allison, Village Voice

 

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