Book Review: Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

I read Octavia E. Butler’s novel Kindred back in August, and it’s a book that has stuck with me long since I closed it and returned it to the public library. There– that should be review enough.

*****

I adored this book. I have recommended it to friends. It’s the kind of book that makes one feel all over the spectrum of human emotions, and keeps one thinking beyond the words of the page.

Kindred is told from the point-of-view of Dana, a young Black American woman living in the 1970s, who inexplicably finds herself being pulled back in time to the antebellum South. The cause of these throwbacks seems to be a connection between her and a red-headed White boy named Rufus, for whom she finds herself obliged to save in his near-death moments time and time again through the course of his childhood and into his adult life. She discovers that Rufus is her distant ancestor, without whom she would not have been born. As Dana is forced to spend more and more time in Rufus’ world, she suffers hardship, abuse, and loss on her mission to ensure that her ancestral roots– no matter how upsetting their origin– remain intact.

What I loved about this story:

The characters were all well-written, complex and deep. Beyond the main character and her volatile relationship with Rufus, the novel exposes the lives of several other colorful and believable people and their connections to each other.

I read the entire 264-page book in three days, staying up well into the early morning on the third night to get to the surprising climax; I couldn’t sleep until I found out how Dana manages to save herself from a fate worse than death (being non-existence).

I appreciated the thought-provoking and heart-rending glance into what it might have been like to live as a slave in the early 19th century in America. Ms. Butler is well-qualified to tell such a story, obviously having done a great deal of research while being Black herself. Kindred could easily replace Uncle Tom’s Cabin in anybody’s library, as an excellent case for why slavery was a terrible thing– not only for the sake of the suffering slaves, but for the effects legalized slavery had on the psyche and outlook of the slave-owners and their children.

While it’s unknown how closely Dana might be modeled after the author herself, if it is a self-insert it doesn’t bother me. Ms. Butler has a knack for giving all of her characters a measure of both virtues and flaws (some more and some less). No character is entirely good or entirely bad, but rather shaped by one’s upbringing and experiences in life, to the point that I even found myself caring about the antagonists’ fates and chances at redemption as much as I rooted for Dana and her husband to overcome their tribulations and return to their own time.

I can’t think of any real criticisms for the book. It’s an excellent read, and I highly recommend it, with a trigger warning for alluded-to and also on-the-page attempted rape and murder.

I haven’t read any more of Butler’s novels, but I certainly will in the future.

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