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#18 Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Note: This book is the February selection for calico_reaction  's bookclub. Read more about that here!

Dana is a modern black woman who is frequently pulled back in time to the pre-Civil War south against her will. Each time she is called upon to save the life of Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner and as she soon learns, her ancestor. The only thing that can bring her back to the present is the fear that her own life is about to end. As Dana meets Rufus several times throughout his lifetime, there is no way that she can predict what effects that the time period will have on him, or on herself.

My first experience with Kindred was in a college class on women and fiction (it was an interesting class- we also read Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber). At the time we had about two or three weeks to read the book. I ended up reading it in just two or three days. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it just as much this time around, while reading it for pleasure. One thing I find interesting about Kindred, is that although there are sci-fi elements (the time traveling) involved, it's really not a science fiction novel. It's more of a piece of historical fiction, and quite an effective one at that. Good historical fiction to me has the ability to take something foreign and long ago, and make it easy for us to connect with. Butler does a fantastic job of that here with Dana, who interprets the past for us through her modern eyes. The novel delves deeply into the psychology of what it means to truly be a slave, and shows that even a strong, heroic woman can be pulled into that mindset if it means her own survival.

I was once again very impressed with the characterization of this novel, as there are truly no “good” or “bad” characters, although some more bad than others. Dana is very much the hero of the novel, but as she struggles for survival, she ends up doing things that are very morally gray. Another example of great characterization can be seen in Rufus himself, who we watch grow from an innocent boy to a man very much influenced by the times he grows up in.

I also enjoyed how the novel was able to feel current, despite the fact that it was written over thirty years ago. Kindred is still a complicated novel that forces the reader to look at a violent and difficult time, and study the impact that it has on it's characters. When I first read this five years ago, I found it impossible not to read Dana's story without asking myself, what would I do if I was in her shoes? Would I make the same choices? How would I find a way to survive? I'm still not sure I have the answers.

Rating: five stars
Length: 377 pages
Source: shelf
Challenge: This book is not part of any challenges
Similar Books: For other books that feature time traveling try Timeline by Michael Crichton, and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Other books I've read by this author: This if my first

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