I lost an arm on my last trip home.
–OctaviaButler - Kindred - c. 1979, 2014
It is 1976 and Dana and her husband have just moved into a new home. They’ve only been married four years, but both now seem to be making it in their chosen profession, writing. But one day, while unpacking, Dana begins to feel dizzy and faint. She suddenly finds herself by the side of river looking at a drowning boy.
She saves the boy’s life, and is soon home again. But this is not an isolated incident. Somehow whenever the boy’s life is in danger Dana is called back in time, back to Rufus’s side. And 1815 antebellum South is not a good place to be for anyone modern, let alone a young black woman.I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. I’d heard of Butler as being one of the classic authors of sff, and she got mentioned a whole heap when Aarti’s More Diverse Universe blog tour was started. And then earlier this month I finished Jo Walton’s What makes this book so great, and Kindred got another nod there. I figured enough was enough and I’d give it a go as soon as I could. The final push was seeing it listed as available on the BookBridgr site. And I’m so glad that I requested it, because it is a fantastic book.
Historical fiction, if done well, should always be somewhat difficult for the modern reader to totally get. People from other times grew up with different attitudes and beliefs. You can just have a modern mindset and yet live in the 1600s, that’s bad writing. But there is also the really awful writing which romanticises certain cultures and ignores the reality of what those cultures were built upon. It’s a problem that people are writing about, when authors ignore huge issues such as racism and slavery and how one set of people lived off the misery of others.
Kindred shows us the reality of what it was to be a slave, and from the point of view of an outsider. Dana is a modern woman, she is horrified by the notion of slavery, just as the reader should be. She hasn’t grown up knowing “her place” and learning to hate and yet accept the situation as a contemporary might. She is an educated woman, and yet in that time and place she is reduced to property.
It is a horrendous story. More so because the horrors she experiences are those that really happened, and worse. And yet people had to live their lives with that, in as much as they could.
And as well as getting that message across it is also a good read. The story is well told, Dana is a credible narrator, I never felt that she was acting stupidly just because the author wanted the plot to go in a particular way. The choices she makes and doesn’t make are ones that are incredibly difficult and yet understandable. If you haven’t read this one I would highly recommend it.