Title: Kindred || Author: Octavia Butler || Audiobook Narrator: Kim Staunton || Genre: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Fantasy, Historical fiction || Publisher: Beacon Press || Year of publication: 1979 || No. of pages: 287 || Available at Amazon.com, Bookdepository and Bol.com
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time and during numerous such time-defying episodes, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother. But each time she travels to the antebellum South the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.
Why Should you pick up this book and/ or the audiobook?
Because it’s a challenging read and if you manage to get through it … it will touch you and inevitably change you. Furthermore it has an epic first line. For me it’s required reading, because it’s the first science fiction book by an African American woman and sci-fi/afrofuturism is something I’d like to be able to write some day. That being said my 1st attempt at reading this classic novella backfired because I was definitely in the mood for a sci-fi time travel story, but I just was not in the right head space to be transported back to the antebellum South. I also thought it was just going to be another slave narrative with sci-fi elements. Technically this is exactly what Kindred is. But as it turns out it’s also a slave memoir, a fantasy and a historical fiction novel.
Despite of the time travel element, this novella was less of a science fiction experience and felt more like magical realism. However the time travel was truly important to the plot because the reader doesn’t only get a true to life depiction of the atrocities slaves had to deal with on a daily basis, they also get to wrap their mind around how the system of oppression that was set in place in the past still effects the present.
Even though at some point I got used to the harsh way in which all of the atrociousness was divulged, I was not always able to distance myself from the many heart wrenching inhumane punishments for minor offenses. What was even more disturbing were the parts of the story where you became aware of the fact that although the physical punishment is something slaves could grow accustomed to, it left mental scars that were not as easy to overcome. Needless to say that I took regular breaks from reading to digest the facts beneath the fiction.
The main protagonist Dana, is a young black woman and everything awful she had to endure was simply because of the color of her skin, which is also the color of my skin. This is why the fact that it was perfectly legal to rape a black woman but frowned upon and punishable by law to love or let alone marry one, haunted me for days after I read about it (also cause this is the part of the story that is not so fictional).
It partially explains why even nowadays, when awful things happen to black women, nobody even bats an eye. Black women are more often than not, left to vent for themselves and even resented if they manage to come out on top. It seems like there is always this line that keeps moving, making it impossible for most black women to ever win, if they were to go about their business in an ordinary fashion. Since it’s safe to assume that by now everyone is familiar with Margot Lee Shetterley’s Hidden Figures, it’s also safe to assume that it’s no longer a myth that black women have to work twice as hard for half as much.
While reading Kindred it was not hard to tell where all the ideas on how black women should be, or rather are allowed to be, treated come from. People don’t seem to realize that black women are born kindhearted and vulnerable, just like women of other ethnicities. Unfortunately often they have no other choice but to be strong because our very prejudice society doesn’t allow them to be anything else. Reading truly expands knowledge, cause now I finally have some understanding of what Sojourner Truth must have felt when she gave her Aint I a Woman speech.
Fortunately the sting of all the aforementioned was always a little less when you got to read about the beautiful (interracial)relationship and strong bond between Dana and her husband. I was pleased to find that there was at least one healthy relationship to look forward to.
I had seen people beaten on television and in the movies. I had seen the too-red blood substitute streaked across their backs and heard their well-rehearsed screams. But I hadn’t lain nearby and smelled their sweat or heard them pleading and praying, shamed before their families and themselves. I was probably less prepared for the reality than the child crying not far from me. In fact, she and I were reacting very much alike. My face too was wet with tears. And my mind was darting from one thought to another, trying to tune out the whipping.
What are the cons or better yet triggers!!
If you decide the aforementioned is your jam, I feel pressed to warn you upfront … the at times derogatory language, the whippings and anything else about slavery that will have you cringe, are not sugarcoated or embellished by sentences full of flowery words. This is a straightforward narrative in very simple speech to make sure that this story is accessible for everyone. Meaning that Octavia Butler writes in such a way that everyone will be able to imagine how a whipping must have felt and if a whipping wasn’t threatening enough you will be able to understand the other ways that were utilized to keep slaves from running.
At times this book was an almost visceral experience and although I can usually finish 287 pages within a week … it took me over a month.
The main reason I didn’t put the book away, is because of an NPR article ( Octavia Butler: Writing Herself Into The Story by Karen Grigsby Bates, July 10 2017 ) that details why Octavia wrote this book and how much research went into making the reading experience as realistic as possible. After I read the article I immediately understood that the discomfort I felt while reading the book was deliberate and why Octavia Butler is a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula award.
What is so remarkable about this book ?
Most remarkable is the way in which this book examines all the facets of slavery and its legacy. Themes like black feminity, interracial relationships, freedom, privilege and choice & power are interwoven into the narrative in such a way you will develop full understanding of why some slaves were very loyal to their masters and how it was possible for a nation of white people to allow people of color to be treated like cattle for at least 246 years. It’s like Dana says “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery”.
Verdict = ☆☆☆☆☆
This book is basically written for people like Kanye West, people that are of the opinion that slavery was a choice. People who think they know, but clearly have no idea. But it’s also for people who need to be made aware of the past and realize that is because of the strength of many of our ancestors (black & white) we have opportunities they couldn’t even phantom. Because of them we can … and it’s good to realize how blessed and fortunate we are to have come this far.
☆ = bad | ☆☆ = okay-ish | ☆☆☆ = fun | ☆☆☆☆ = amazing | ☆☆☆☆☆ = exceptional