Rating: 5 out of 5
Written in 1979, Kindred by Octavia Butler has been on my bookshelf for at least a year without me so much as reading the table of contents.
I’d bought it at the suggestion of some writer friends who offered it as a title written by and featuring black people. The search led me to Butler as an author and Kindred as the first book to read from her long list of award winning novels.
The story of Kindred, is a massive trigger warning for people of color, descendants of slavery and oppression as well as women who’ve survived sexual assault as well as various forms of domestic abuse.
The most difficult parts of the book were the parts of the story that gave it it’s edge. A glimpse at the degradation experienced as a slave in the antebellum South.
As Dana traveled back and forth through space and time I too went on a journey of self discovery, though no stranger to the tales of slavery, this particular story had the added insult of having a free woman from the modern world transported to the past and told she had to act the part. In a time where slavery is a not so distant memory and injustice is an everyday publicized occurrence the similarities of the past and the present are undeniable.
I could’ve been Dana, transported from my Philadelphia home in 2018 to 1815 where my complexion merely meant I probably wouldn’t work out in the fields. I’m not sure if I could’ve rescued Rufus.
The title Kindred, could speak to the two couples most noted in the book. The juxtaposition between Rufus and Alice & Kevin and Dana is a connection I couldn’t quite explain.
During the reign of slavery, slaves weren’t able to marry, had no rights and weren’t even seen as people. Rufus exploited this in his pursuits to woo, abuse and eventually drive Alice a formerly free woman to kill herself. Though Rufus claimed to love Alice his actions showed he could only love her as much as he could any other property he possessed.
A stark contrast from the 70s, marrying outside of your race wasn’t common but occurred. Kevin waited 5 years for Dana and she returned to endure humiliation for him.
I personally don’t feel the title speaks to the story at all. I wouldn’t even say that Dana and Rufus are kindred spirits, their only connection being a bloodline established out of rape and systematic torture. Usually when thinking of the word, it elicits thoughts of fate and a connection that surpasses all boundaries.
This particular connection was to a place, time and person contradictory to the life Dana had built for herself. Beyond transcending time to save his own skin, Rufus Weylin exhibited none of the qualities of a kindred spirit.
It would be easy to create stereotypical characters and in some way Butler, manipulated stereotypes to tell her story however, I would say that Butler was able to cultivate well rounded life-like characters that I connected with and felt for. Dana for me was the most relatable. I am a black woman living in the modern era, it was as if I had been transported into the pass and as she was stripped of each layer of the modern world in a way so was I. There were times I felt physically sick from reading about her ordeal but I’m happy for having read it.
Octavia Butler must have a great mind to consider the conundrum she beset Dana. Without Rufus she would cease to exist, but how long is she to endure to ensure her own safety? She also forms a bind with the boy, once hoping to influence him for the better he evolves into the beast she dreaded despite her presence. I felt myself densely waiting on the arrival of her first descendant just so she could go home and never return.
Dana and Kevin are a biracial couple living in 1978 California at a time when race relations were tense but facing process. Their immediate transport to the antebellum South where white men used black slave women as bed warmers and breeders is a 180 degree switch from what they’re used to. Rufus, his parents and even the slaves had simply been playing the roles taught to them by society as a whole.
A part of the story I didn’t care for is the loss of her arm and the explanation behind it. Call me overly sympathetic to Dana’s plight but hadn’t she gone through enough? To then say that Butler, couldn’t have let her return completely, that some part of her had to remain in the past.
Personally, I feel by the end of the book that Dana had been altered enough and choosing to leave her with both arms wouldn’t have hurt. She’d been overworked, slapped, punched, kicked, whipped and had at one point slit her own wrists. Dana will forever be physically and psychologically altered.
I suppose one would have to wonder how Rufus survived without Dana prior to her birth, but I guess time paradoxes would suggest that she was always the one who kept him alive.
With more than 450,000 copies in print I can see why Kindred comes so highly recommended. The Book itself is a healthy blend of genres spanning across science fiction, fantasy, neo-slave narratives and historical fiction.
Kindred made me openly cry and wanna jump into the book and throttle the characters. I happily give this one a 5 out of 5.
Have You Read Kindred? What did you think? Let me Know in the Comments Below!