A Grim Fantasy: Olivia Butler’s Kindred

KindredKindred, by Octavia E. Butler, is one of those books that is listed on tons of “to read” lists. It also happens to be a genre bending book. It fits in both the historical and science fiction genres though Butler has called it a “Grim Fantasy.” It also has one of my favorite requirements; a strong female lead. The book begins with a bang when the main character wakes up in a hospital with her arm amputated. The story then quickly jumps back to the first time the main character, Dana, began traveling through time from 1976 to the antebellum South. Dana has no control over when she travels in time. It seems to be caused by fear of death experienced by her ancestor, Rufus Weyland, a white son of a slave owner. This poses problems, when Dana, who is a modern African American woman, is forced into playing the part of a slave to appease Rufus’ father and the culture of the times.

A friend and I picked this book as our reading group’s next read. We had both heard of Kindred many times in lists and thought this would be a great time to read it. I found Butler’s writing style to be very direct and to the point with very little flowery descriptions of the environment or characters. You don’t get a sense of the physical environment so much as the culture and people. I believe Butler was trying to make a point of what it would be like for someone from modern times to be forced into slavery.

At first Dana and her husband, Kevin, consider being stuck in the past as a sort of game. They feel they can come up with a story and fit right in. However, it isn’t long before Dana’s ill-treatment becomes a problem for the couple. It is difficult to understand how the mental and physical abuse affects Dana. Kevin is disturbed by the physical abuse of other slaves but it is difficult for him to grasped the debasement Dana feels by having to submit herself constantly to people she sees as equals.

The mental strain continues to be an issue through the book as Rufus grows into a young man. He changes from an innocent child into a manipulative slave owner. Dana tries to be a mother figure, a teacher and a friend to Rufus to encourage the growth of a better individual. However, with the influence of his parents and his environment, it a challenge sway his constant mood changes.

Kindred is one of the few, if not only, books that forces modern people into the historical role of a Southern slave. The story is incredibly tangible for modern day people learning about slavery in the Antebellum South. There is so much to discuss such as gender and race differences, that I’m surprised it’s not used in more classes. Overall, a great, literary read for all types.

Abigail Beaver is a writer and librarian who spends much of her time being smothered by her boxer until she is forced to take him on a long walk.

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