Kindred

I picked up this book on a Saturday evening, and by Sunday afternoon I had finished it. I kept telling myself I needed to put it down so I could accomplish other things, but it was not to be so.

Many of us had the opportunity to read this book in high school, I, (un)fortunately did not. However, it has been on my reading list ever since my sister read it when she was in high school.

I’ve read some of Octavia Butler’s other work, primarily her trilogy, Lilith’s Brood. She is typically a more science fiction writer, and a wonderful one at that. Nevertheless, her writing abilities are not bound by genre.

Kindred brings to perspective the reality that when you ask the question “If you could go back in time, what time period would you go to?”, you are not considering that for many people, primarily people of color, there is no time period in modern history (or even some cases ancient) in which it was a safe place to be a person of color. Time travel, were it to exist, would be reserved for the few, primarily white men.

Octavia does an amazing job of making this reality clear, particularly with her juxtaposition of Dana, an African-American woman, and her husband, Kevin, a white man. Both end up traveling back in time to antebellum Maryland, and both have very different experiences because of the color of their skin. It resonated with me that Octavia did not make this differential experience subtle; Dana says on more than one occasion how different her lived experience is than Kevin’s. Although this seems unnecessary, since it should be obvious to the reader that Dana’s skin color would dictate her treatment in an era with slavery, it is all the more powerful that you read Dana explicitly explaining to Kevin that they are no longer anywhere close to being on the same playing field.

Octavia also does a splendid job of describing the cognitive dissonance Dana experiences in relation to some of the slaves she ends up befriending, as she becomes a part of their world. It is easy to think, retrospectively, that had you been a slave yourself, you would have done everything in your power to be free. However, as you dive into “Kindred” you realize that it isn’t that simple, and that everything was constructed in such a way to ensure it was nearly impossible to escape. During the beginning portion of the book, Dana judges one of the slaves for she seems complacent about her fate as a slave.  But, as the story progresses, you see Dana’s knowledge of the era grow and thus her judgment is replaced by an understanding.

Definitely a must read for all, particularly for those of you hoping to continually expand your knowledge and understanding of the racist history of the U.S. Nothing like a well written historical fiction book to give you some perspective!

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