TW: racism, slavery, rape.
Welcome back! Sorry for today’s review being a little later than usual, but in good news, I’ve been for my second COVID-19 vaccination today, and forgot about writing this review in the excitement! I received this book in the second Feminist Book Box.
Octavia E. Butler wasn’t an author I had read before, but I would definitely be willing to pick up another book by her again. Kindred is a science fiction, following Dana as she is quite literally pulled back in time to save the life of her ancestor, Rufus. The premise is really different to anything I’ve seen before, and it allows Butler to explore slavery through a (sort of) modern lens. The book was written in the 70s I believe, so of course things have progressed since then, but I still could imagine this book having been set between the 21st Century and the 19th.
As a Black woman drawn back into the 1800s to act as a protector for a white boy, Dana is in danger whenever Rufus calls her to him. The relationship between Dana and Rufus is turbulent: Rufus ages while Dana does not age between trips, and Rufus, as the son of a plantation owner, is frequently racist towards Dana.
The racism in this book is shocking, and quite hard to read, as with any book that deals with slavery. Still, I think it’s an important book to read, and a very eye-opening one as it’s able to show the contrast between the two time periods, and address the stark contrast between 1815 and 1976.
I was really impressed by the characters in this book, and the way Butler is able to make your feelings towards them change so dramatically throughout the course of the novel. In the first encounter between Dana and Rufus, he is an innocent child. As he grows older, his attitude toward Dana changes, and his behaviour becomes erratic. At times I liked him, or felt sympathy towards him, but mostly I hated him for the later parts of the book. Despite hating him, his character was still excellent. He had a strong character arc, and his motives and actions were understandable when considering the context of the novel. Dana, as well, was a brilliant character. Her character arc was less dramatic than Rufus’, as less of her life is covered by the book, but it was no less engaging or interesting to read. I found Dana’s husband, Kevin, a sort of boring character, and he faded into the background a bit for me. However, a lot of the other supporting characters including Sarah, Carrie, Alice and Nigel made up for the disappointment that was Kevin by being so well fleshed out and developed.
The one issue I had with this book was the narrative voice, or the style of the novel. I loved Dana as a character, but sometimes the narration seemed a bit clunky, and it pulled me out of the story. Having not read anything else by Butler, I can’t say if this is an effect of her style, or if it’s a consequence of using Dana as the first person point of view character rather than a third person narrative. There were just moments where it seemed Dana was over explaining, and there was also some clunky dialogue. Fortunately, this didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the book thanks to the premise and strength of the characters.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book, and I am glad that it was included in Hachette’s April Feminist Book Box. Some of the scenes are definitely upsetting, and quite brutal, but this is a book worth reading without a doubt. If you’ve read Kindred, or anything else by Octavia Butler, please let me know in the comments what you thought! Would you recommend her work? If you haven’t read anything by Butler, what have you been reading lately? Share your recommendations in the comments!