Kindred - Octavia Butler
Edana is a young Black woman living with her new husband in their new home in 1976 Los Angeles. While unpacking books she suddenly feels dizzy. Dropping to her knees in a fugue state, she awakens to the screams of a child. She’s on a riverbank and the boy, Rufus, is in danger of drowning. What she doesn’t realize is that she has been transported in time and place to 1812 Maryland. Rufus is the only son of a white plantation owner, who is none too happy to see a “nigger” hunched over his child. But before either Dana or the man can get any further explanation, she is instantly back in her living room – muddy and wet, but alive.
Thus begins a series of time travels for Dana, all precipitated by some crisis in Rufus’s life that puts him in mortal danger. Dana has no control over these episodes, but quickly determines to be prepared with a bag of clothes, and such modern conveniences as aspirin, antiseptic, pen and paper; she keeps the bag tied to her waist, just in case.
This was an inventive and interesting plot, and I was caught up in the story of this ante-bellum Maryland plantation and those living and working on it. But I was somewhat disappointed in the execution. I did not think that Butler sufficiently developed her characters. Rufus and his father were one-sided, Margaret miraculously morphed from a mean-spirited tyrant to a gentle old woman. Kevin’s story is never fully explored or explained. Dana acts neither like a modern-day black woman, nor like a submissive, scared slave. While I understand the situation would lead to confusion, Butler could have done a better job of giving her some internal dialogue to explore her feelings and emotions. The dialogue was repetitive; I really got tired of the constant reminders to “watch what you say.”
I’m glad I’ve finally read this work, however. Butler shines a light on a very dark period in America’s history. The picture isn’t pretty. There is a lot of violence, hatred, ignorance and cruelty depicted, and some of it is just gut-wrenchingly difficult to read. I do like the metaphor of the scars carried from the past to the future. I can definitely see why this is frequently chosen by book clubs.
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