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Thursday, June 6, 2019

KINDRED by Octavia E. Butler

Originally Published in 1979.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) was a science fiction author who won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, both for novelettes. Kindred, though, is not a novelette - it is a full length novel and one of the best novels that I have read in a long time. This book could easily end up being the best book I will read this year.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006)
Dana is a 26 year old African American woman. The year is 1976, she and her husband are celebrating her 26th birthday at their home. Suddenly, she feels faint. When her mind clears, she is in the woods by a river. She sees a young boy drowning in the water. She dives in, pulls him out, revives him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and is rewarded by having a gun put to her face.

...and she disappears and ends up back in her house and soaking wet. Her husband tells her that she's only been gone a few seconds.

A few hours later, she disappears again. The same boy is in danger and she saves him again - but he is a few years older now. She determines that she is in the early 1800's in Maryland on a slave plantation. She has saved the white son of the plantation owner twice but, unlike the last time she doesn't return to 1976 right away and now has to accommodate her 1976 ways of thinking to the ways of a slave plantation.

1976 wasn't the most inclusive of times, but it certainly was a damn sight better than living on a slave plantation in the early 1800's.

Dana eventually returns to 1976 after she is nearly killed. However, she is only starting a cycle of ever-lengthening stays in the past...

It is interesting to me that this piece of science fiction has the most detailed description of the day-to-day dangers and hardships of American slavery - much more than anything that I have read in a history book. Really, the only thing that came close was a personal tour that my family took of a slave plantation that was owned by a university. The university was studying the financial, personal and genealogical records of that plantation and their neighboring plantations in an effort to understand how they worked day to day and how they worked over the generation.  This tour was completely "off of the books" and was not subject to the sanitizing process that most public tours undergo.

I think this novel is so effective because it is a modern woman with a modern way of looking at things that has to figure out the rules of a slave plantation. She can't let on that she can read, she can't speak her mind, she can't look white people in the face (in 1976 she is married to a white man and he ends up accidentally getting brought back in time with her at one point), she has to follow the "rules" that the slaves have among themselves.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. Highly recommended.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler.

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