Review: Kindred – Octavia E. Butler.

kindredDana and her husband move into their new home, and suddenly she’s dizzy. She falls to her knees, and – dark. A child screams, she is by the edge of woods, and wades into the water to pull him to safety. She stares down the barrel of a gun, then suddenly finds herself back home, soaking.

It turns out she’s in nineteenth-century Maryland when she’s not in her apartment, which turns out to be a very dangerous place for her, being black in times of slavery.

Man, what a book. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before (whether it’s unlike anything ever written before is beyond my knowledge at present). So rarely does time travel work, personally, outside of real sci-fi, space-based, futuristic ideas. Yet here, to send a modern day woman into slavery, to see her initial reactions to having to call someone ‘Master’, and the way even white children talk about her was the initial clinch of concept.

Aside from the fact the writing is pretty sublime, I found it unsettling. And – to quote myself for the gazillionth time on this front – I think that any book that can make you feel something strong – good, bad or otherwise, is good on some fundamental level.

Beyond the cruelty and injustice of the time, a particular note of feeling uncomfortable came from the current Elliot Rodger revelation: the 22 year old virgin who went on a shooting spree because women rejected him. Simple as that.

While that link at a glance naturally seems odd, I took note of this:

“Rufe, did you manage to rape that girl?” He looked away guiltily.
“Why would you do such a thing? She used to be your friend.”
“When we were little, we were friends,” he said softly. “We grew up. She got so she’d rather have a buck nigger than me!”
“Do you mean her husband?” I asked. I managed to keep my voice even.
“Who in hell else would I mean!”
“Yes.” I gazed down at him bitterly. Kevin had been right. I’d been foolish to hope to influence him. “Yes,” I repeated. “How dare she choose her own husband. She must have thought she was a free woman or something.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” he demanded. Then his voice dropped to almost a whisper. “I would have taken better care of her than any field hand could. I wouldn’t have hurt her if she hadn’t just kept saying no.”
“She had the right to say no.”
“We’ll see about her rights!”

Just given the strenuous parallel of the situation as I read, it made an already uncomfortable read that bit more off. But, that’s a good thing. A book that can cause a reaction is worth it.

To cut this short, because it’s getting out of hand, Butler shows a modern-day African-American woman lurch back in time when her slave-owning ancestor is in need of help and rescue, with some odd twists and turns along the way. It’s harrowing at times, surprising overall, and really, really good.

Pub: 27th Mar 2014 | Headline

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