Kindred by Octavia Butler

Hello everyone! I hope you’re having a lovely Black History Month and a great weekend. I just finished this book last night and I’m still thinking about all the smart messages hidden in it. I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, but this year I’m making a concerted effort to read more black sci-fi, so I decided to start with the queen of black sci-fi: Octavia Butler. This was my second time reading Octavia Butler – the first time was for a class in college – and I’m obsessed with her. I really enjoy the way she writes and I’m fascinated by how far ahead of her time she was, and this was another great example of how brilliant she was.

The Rundown

Kindred is a science fiction novel about Dana, a 26-year-old writer living in 1976 (which was present day at the time the book was written). She lives in California with her husband (he’s white – that ends up mattering a lot later on in the story). Out of nowhere, Dana is transported back to 1815 just in time to save this young white boy who’s in danger. Throughout the book, she’s transported back in time whenever this boy is in danger, and her stays in the past grow longer each time. Dana has to adjust to living as an enslaved person and navigating her relationship with the boy to make sure she stays alive.

Length: 264 pages

Additional Sections: Prologue & Epilogue

Genre: Science fiction

Year Published: 1979

The Good Stuff

Kindred is split up into six chapters based on the six different times that Dana is called back to the 1800s. Everything is told from Dana’s point of view.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it is completely focused on furthering the plot. There are no long pauses for description or for Dana’s internal mental struggle without it relating specifically to what’s going on at the moment. The best part of it is that her shorter descriptions don’t take away from the quality of the story; you can still picture everything in your head and see it all playing out. It’s such a unique way of writing, and it was so fun to read. It was definitely a page-turner with no dull moments.

Butler was a genius at showing the complexities of all the different relationships throughout the book. As Dana is continually called back to Rufus (the boy who’s constantly getting himself into trouble), she learns why she has to be invested in keeping him alive. The difficulties arise when Rufus, the son of a plantation owner and slaveholder, has to figure out how to treat Dana. Keep in mind that Dana is an educated, incredibly well-spoken and well-read woman. While that’s admirable in the present, it gets her into trouble when she has to blend in with the other enslaved people on the plantation. Butler explores the tough parts of several relationships: husband/wife, enslaver/enslaved, friend/friend, and father/son. I like that she pushed back at the idea of being a “nice” slave owner, because it’s an oxymoron. Even the halfway decent enslavers were still raping, beating, and selling other humans, and there isn’t way to find the niceness in that. I appreciated how brutal she had to be at times to make that point. 

I also just really loved the concept of this book. The idea was so innovative and so well-done. Butler made great choices with Dana’s career, her husband, everything about her relationship with Rufus, and how Dana navigated her place on the plantation. I thought it was a great idea to tell the story in first-person from Dana’s perspective as well; there were several times where Dana’s choices could’ve easily made me upset if I hadn’t understood how she was thinking. It was fascinating to read how Dana’s mindset changed as she spent more time as an enslaved person, and it gave insight into how enslaved people in the past might’ve been able to accept what was happening to them even if they knew it was wrong. It was heartbreaking and angering. Butler is an incredible artist and I really enjoyed reading more of her work. 

What I Would Change

This isn’t something that really needs to change, but I didn’t love what happened to Dana at the very end. Maybe my feeble mind just doesn’t completely understand why, but if I could change anything, I would change that. 

Overall the book was excellent and was a great intro to black sci-fi. I would 100% recommend it. 

Overall Rating: 10/10

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