History Gets a Sci-Fi Twist in Kindred

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Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

What if you found yourself suddenly transported into the past? What if you traveled over and over to the same place and you had no control over when you came back? What if the past was so dangerous that you wondered if you would ever come back at all?

“I’m not sure it’s possible for a lone black woman—or even a black man—to be protected in that place.” —Octavia E. Butler from Kindred

Dana Franklin lives in California in 1976. An African American writer, she and her new husband move into a house together on her 26th birthday. While unpacking boxes, Dana suddenly becomes dizzy and finds herself transported to an unfamiliar river. A young boy is drowning, and Dana acts instinctively to save him. She’s just as dizzily returned back to her home, muddy and soaked, and unable to explain to her husband, Kevin, or to herself what happened. She doesn’t have to wait long until she’s transported again, this time to find the same boy setting his bedroom curtains on fire.

With disbelief, Dana realizes she’s not only across the continent, but more than a hundred years out of her own time in 1815 Maryland. And as an African American woman, Dana is in incredible danger in the pre-Civil War South. Dana comes to understand that this boy, the white son of a slave-owner, is her ancestor, Rufus Weylin. Is it Dana’s duty to protect Rufus until he’s old enough to father her great-grandmother? Is that why she keeps coming back to the past and to Rufus?

Butler asks a lot of questions, and doesn’t give easy answers. What was slavery really like? Can someone from the future survive such a harsh world? What moral sacrifices must be made in order for Dana to stay alive and to protect her ancestors?

“The ease. Us, the children…I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” —Octavia E. Butler from Kindred

I love the way Octavia E. Butler re-imagines slavery through a modern woman’s perspective. Kindred gets to tell a historically accurate story of Southern slavery, but since Dana is from the future we get to see the past through the eyes of someone who isn’t used to it and who is horrified by what she sees (just like we are as the readers). Dana could be any one of us, and I appreciate how strong, smart, compassionate and brave she is in the face of so much cruelty and fear.

Butler describes Kindred as a “grim fantasy,” and most of her other books fall into the science-fiction category. In the 1970s, there were hardly any African American sci-fi writers, and even fewer that were women. Butler changed all that by giving science fiction strong, Black female characters like Dana. That’s why, almost forty years since its publication, it’s remained a classic, not only in the science-fiction community, but in schools and academia as well.

Kindred has it all; it’s thought provoking, diverse in subject and characters and heart-poundingly exciting! Don’t wait to read it, and be sure to check out Octavia E. Butler’s other books as well!

Happy reading!
-Adina

Adina enjoys cooking and eating (mostly eating), ranting about books and watching movies with her friends. You can find her working at the West End branch or relaxing in her cozy apartment.