Book Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia Butler
Genre(s)/Categories: Speculative fiction, Historical fiction, Science Fiction-Time travel
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.16 Stars
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Brief Synopsis: Dana, a black woman in the 1970s, is suddenly transported back in time to the antebellum South to save the life of one of her ancestors over and over again. With little to no warning or control over when she travels in time, Dana is forced to live with the fear that any moment she will be pulled back to a deadly and confusing time and place.
My Review: Why did I wait so long to read this book? I knew I would love this book based on the premise and all of the great reviews I have read over the years- I did not realize how much I would love this book! It is engrossing and heartbreaking and as difficult to put down as it is at times to read.
This is one of those books that not only makes you grateful for the ability to read, but also for the privilege of being able to read such talented writing by a woman of color. Butler is one of a few writers that so skillfully uses science fiction/speculative fiction as a tool to explore themes that are very human – race, gender and privilege.
This book, as with other good science fiction novels, forces the reader and MC to ask a lot of difficult questions: Would this person I’m married to feel differently about me or our marriage if we lived in different times? How different is my relationship with a semi-protective master from the relationship with my protective husband? How would I react if I lived during an extremely difficult and painful part of history? How would I judge myself from my future, privileged lens if I was reading about the difficult and impossible choices I made in the past? How much of who we are is influenced by the times we live in? Would I have the same morals or limits of what I would do or tolerate in a different time period and circumstance?
I cannot tell you how amazing it is to read a book like this one that refuses to follow the usual time travel narrative of mainstream science fiction novels. I love time travel novels and it can be fun to think about what you would do if you lived during different times. But for most people, it is impossible to separate who you are from these hypothetical situations. And most of us are not privileged white males. Therefore, our hypothetical experiences are inextricably linked to our identities and it is impossible for me not to think about how things would be for me as a light-skinned Native woman a few hundred years ago.
Would my Native ancestors have recognized and accepted me as one of them? Would they be ashamed of how little of my language I speak or how assimilated to mainstream culture I am? What about my white ancestors? Would they have accepted me as long as I didn’t acknowledge my Native side? Would I want them to? Would they be some of the ones killing Natives and taking their land? Was my great-great grandma on my Native side raped by her white husband or forced into marriage?
While reading this book, I couldn’t help but to think of these questions as they relate to my experiences. However, Butler is such a talented writer that I didn’t focus on myself for long – I got too caught up in the story and all of the questions that Dana was forced to reckon with and find the answers to, even when the answers were never simple or easy.