Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Thoughts - Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia Butler
published 1979
264 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back again and again for Rufus, yet each time the stay grows longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana"s life will end, long before it has even begun.

My thoughts -

I don't know that I exactly enjoyed this novel, but I'm not sure that was its intent. When she was interviewed about Kindred, Butler stated that she wanted to help modern readers "experience" slavery  - I think in that regard her novel was very successful. I don't know that I've ever read a novel that expresses the uncertainty and tension surrounding slavery as well as Butler was able to do with this novel. Each time Dana travels back in time, she arrives at a new situation, with new dangers and difficulties, and each time she has to figure out how to fit in and lay low until she can make her way back to the present. This feeling of not knowing what to expect from minute to minute was palpable, and I could feel it as I read the novel.

Butler also seemed to have interesting ideas about the "house slave" vs. the "field slave", and the tensions between the two groups. I sense that much of Butler's purpose is to see if the reader can put themselves in her characters' shoes - can you understand why Dana makes the choices she makes? Can you see through Rufus' eyes to why he acts the way he does? Can you identify with enough in Alice to see why she chooses the life she ultimately does? It's not an easy thing, and I struggled with it - and with many of the characters' choices - but it was valuable for me to purposefully think they way they would be forced to think.

I did have some problems with the novel - there were parts that seemed rushed, and I had SO many questions that remained unanswered. I never felt like this was a pleasurable reading experience, exactly - it felt like something I would have read for a class in college, and while I could certainly appreciate the novel for its merits, I don't think I ever truly enjoyed the reading of it.

Early in the novel, Dana says, "I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery." I think that is true of most of the evil that is perpetrated in the world, and a stark reminder that it's up to each person to keep evil from taking root. Despite some problems, I definitely recommend this novel - it's a fascinating premise, and chock full of powerful and challenging ideas.

Finished - 5/13/13
Source - Kindle library
MPAA rating - R for violence and adult situations
My rating - 7/10


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the book was thought provoking even if you did have issues with it.

Andi said...

I skimmed your review because I'm reading this one now. Hope to have my thoughts posted soon!

Eva said...

I just reread this a couple of months ago, and I agree that Butler did such a good job at bringing slavery to the modern reader. I was also really struck by how much harder it was to research in the 70s! Nowadays, Dana would've just had to pull up Wikipedia. ;)

Anyway, I rather like that Butler left a lot of the questions unresolved, because I think that's what it would have been like for those who experienced slavery. I just read a book (Help Me to Find My People ) about post-Civil War newly freed slaves trying to track down their family members who'd been sold & found it v powerful, especially about the uncertainty and doubt they had.