The August book of the month for Harare Book Club was Octavia Butler’s Kindred.
Kindred was first published in 1979 and over 40 years after its publication, its still a popular and powerful story maybe even more so now when the fight for rights, equality and the battle against oppression and discrimination still rage on.
I was first introduced to Octavia Butler when a fellow blogger made the comment that a short story I had written had a character that reminded them of one from Octavia Butler’s books. I hadn’t heard of Octavia Butler at the time, so I went out searching only to find I had missed her by a couple of years as she had passed away at the age of 85 in 2006 but her words live on, so I read them all.
Octavia Estelle Butler
Octavia Estelle Butler was an American Science fiction author with multiple accolades including being the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in 1995. Butler is known throughout the science fiction world as the Grande Dame of Science Fiction. Kindred remains her best-selling novel
Kindred is a time travel story that is partly a historical fantasy, partly a slave narrative, and partly the story of how a twentieth-century black woman comes to terms with slavery as her own and her nation’s past. The book is widely classified as science fiction although outside of the time travel aspect, it has none of the traditional sci-fi elements, it’s a human interest story, Octavia called it a kind of grim fantasy.
Kindred is the story of Dana, a Black woman living in the 70s era. She is unpacking boxes at home when all of a sudden she disappears, and fall into the 1800s of the Pre-Civil War South. Before she can figure out what is going on, she saves a small white child’s life but is almost killed herself. Then she immediately returns home to her time period, but things only get weirder after that…
The book has a non-liner plot which begins somewhere in the middle of the end and then stitched together between present and past with flashbacks told via a first-person point of view that makes you a witness to it all…
Kindred is a haunting and honest account of slavery, feminism, legacy and survival as Dana realises how the people she meets in 1800s are not just her kindred by race but her very bloodline and she has to make tough choices to ensure generations of her very existence…
The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slaveryDana – Kindred
The book opens with a gripping line that immediately draws you in, willing you to embark on this adventure:
I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm. And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until it was gone.
Octavia is phenomenal storyteller and weaves the story in a way that violence of the times is somewhat easier to digest, the slave era was a difficult time and this book makes us all kindred for having witnessed history.
“I think one of the reasons I wrote Kindred was to resolve my feelings… Kindred was a kind of reaction to some of the things going on during the 60s when people were feeling ashamed of, or more strongly, angry with their parents for not having improved things faster, and I wanted to take a person from today and send that person back to slavery.” – Octavia
Sometimes we educate best by unsettling, by pulling back the curtain of a world and saying, look, scream, and never forget. – Octavia
The Not So Good
Even though Octavia tried to toned down the brutality and violence the book will trigger you, the rape, the whippings, the cruelty one being can inflict on another… I also wish the time travel aspect had been clarified we never get to understand the what, when, how and why.
If this book is not on your To Be Read pile it should be…
PS Kindred is being made into a movie… ok technically that’s not true but the Lionsgate movie Antebellum (Premieres September 2020) is heavily inspired by the plot and events from Kindred.