Kindred by Octavia Butler

This book is labelled as science fiction but it’s not really. Yes there is time travel but it is only there for plot device, it is not explained and isn’t explored really at all, just taken as a fact from the characters.

What this book is really is an exploration of slavery in America in the early nineteenth century from the viewpoint of a modern black woman from the seventies. Our only POV is of Dana, who is mysteriously drawn into the past whenever the life of Rufus, the child of a slave owner of a plantation, is in danger. There is a connection there that is the apparent reason for her going back in time, but as I said it is incidental. 

Dana is an interesting character, a writer who tries the make the best of the experience by using her knowledge to influence Rufus to be a better person but struggles against the society of the time and the true helplessness of a slave who has no control of their own destiny. This book shows the brutality of the times and how people coped with it but it also shows how the people were indoctrinated to it, both the slaves and their owners. Rufus is the embodiment of this, a child and man that has good traits but due to his upbringing and power is also capable of brutality and pettiness that has terrible consequences for the people around him, particularly the ones he cares about.

Though there are no other POV’s we also see the times affect Dana’s husband Kevin, who is brought back with her one time, Sarah, a slave who’s children have been sold, and of course Alice, Rufus’ childhood friend who’s journey is the most traumatic and that’s saying something. 

All the characters are drawn well, nobody is perfect. Even Rufus’ father, the closest to a ‘villain’ is shown more as a cold man who is the product of his times than an outright sociopath. This book kept me riveted, even through the difficult to read places. The prose flowed well though didn’t stand out to me, it was the exploration of the idea that was more important I think.

I wouldn’t be in a rush to read it again but I’m glad that I did as it’s a part of history that I’m not too familiar with being not from the US. A worthwhile read that unfortunately still feels very relevant today.

4 stars out of 5

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