As humans, I think we are fixated on our realities. It is so easy for me to constantly focus on life’s difficulties, ruminating on how things could be better. But, until I encounter another individual, who openly shares their situation, I realize it could be far worse. Not to say my problems are not significant, but I can now place them in a new perspective. Life is such a funny place. As I read the novel Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, these were some of my musings.
The book centers around Dana, a modern black woman who lives in California with her new husband in 1976. The story begins with Dana celebrating her 26th birthday in their new home. However, she feels dizzy and nauseous as she organizes their new library and becomes enveloped in darkness. The next thing she sees is a young boy drowning in a river. It is at this time that Dana realizes she is no longer home but in the antebellum south in 1815. As the story progresses, she discovers that the young boy’s name is Rufus, the son of a plantation owner and her ancestor. Dana travels back and forth from modern time to the 1800s without control over when it happens and grapples with the atrocities of slavery and an institution that gives her no autonomy. Each stay becomes extended, challenging, and risky to the point that the reader is unsure if Dana’s ancestral lineage will survive.
I have known about this book for many years, yet I chose not to read it. Because it was advertised as science fiction, and that’s not my genre. However, this year, one of my reading goals is to read outside of my comfort zone, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. The book was terrific, and I strongly recommend it. The concept is so unique because you get to view the antebellum south through the eyes of a modern black woman, observing the barbarity and wickedness of slavery. Butler’s writing is simple, powerful, and visceral. I connected with Dana as a modern-day black woman myself, imagining how I would feel if I was abruptly transported to that time. If this happened to me, I would first be discombobulated with the occurrence, then enraged with the regular atrocities, and finally dispirited that fellow humans are perpetrating these nefarious acts. Reader, how would you feel if this happened to you? What would you do?
I have no significant critiques for this novel. Some may say that the book may have been complete if Butler had expanded on Dana’s day-to-day life in her current time, which is a fair assessment, but that was not necessary for me. Our recent times tell us everything we need to know. Black people’s lives have been substantially better since the 1800’s, no question; however, there is still so much to be done to attain total equity.
This book is genius. After reading it, I think the book is classified best as historical fiction. It depicts the unflattering aspects of American history that many people are uncomfortable discussing. Also, it shows how easy it is to conform to society. Dana is an educated, independent black woman in modern times, yet once she is transported back to the 1800’s she accepts her new circumstances with minimal fight.
I’m planning to read more Octavia Butler books in the future.
Reader, I leave you with a few thought-provoking quotes from the novel that gave me moments of pause:
“Slavery was a long slow process of dulling.”
“… a society that considered blacks subhuman…”
“…I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery”.
“…wondered whether a little time in some sort of mental institution would be worse than several months of slavery. I doubted it”.