Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned across the years to save him. After this first summons, Dana is drawn back again and again to the plantation to protect Rufus and ensure that he will grow to manhood and father the daughter who will become Dana's ancestor. Yet each time the stay grow longer and more dangerous until it is uncertain wehther or not Dana's life will end, long before it has ever begun.

Kindred (1979), by Octavia E. Butler, is a historical science fiction novel about slavery. The setting is 1970s California. Dana, a black 26-year-old woman, and her white husband, Kevin, find themselves in the hospital. Dana has part of her arm missing. How did this unfortunate accident happen to her?

The story begins with the first-person narration of Dana and how she travels back in time to the antebellum American South, Maryland. A red-haired boy is drowning in the river and she magnificently saves him. Suddenly, she is back with her husband. She realizes every time this little boy is in serious trouble, he summons her back into the past. She learns that slavery is legal and the boy lives on a plantation. The more she stays in the past, the more unfamiliar and dangerous it becomes as her ignorance of the culture catches up with her physically and emotionally.

Dana discovers that this boy, Rufus, is her great-great grandfather, the father of Hagar, her own great-grandmother. She must protect him if he is to ever produce Hagar when he becomes a man. She creates friendships with fellow slaves to learn her role in society. She meets Alice Greenwood, a free black woman with whom Rufus has a friendly—and sexual—relationship and resembles Dana in appearance and built. What role does she have that makes her so valuable? When Kevin also travels back in time and stays behind, Dana must find and rescue before anything awful hurts him. Dana must race against time before her own life ends in jeopardy.

I chose Kindred in honor of Black History Month, which coincidentally the 2011 theme is African Americans and the Civil War. Each chapter portrays an important event that happens to Dana and Rufus. In the novel, Butler tries to depict slaves as individuals and attempts to portray the slaveholders with equity, showing not only their cruelty but also their humanity. When you finish the book, you must re-read the first chapter in order to fully grasp the story. I discovered it makes the novel more interesting and admiring. Character development and narration is excellent. It has great compare/contrast examples between characters and events (i.e., Dana/Kevin and Alice/Rufus).

The novel's themes include interracial relationships, slavery’s impact on the past and present, the consequence of time travel and trust. This is not a painless novel and will make you think about your surroundings. I like how it engages readers to reiterate their own cultural history and how interwoven the characters are in the end. Thus, we cannot continue to ignore the legacy of slavery on American history and culture. This novel also made me experiencing what life was like for slaves and white people. This is what makes Kindred more empowering and frightening.

In 2001, this landmark novel was brought to life in an exceptional audio adaptation. Unfortunately, Octavia Butler passed away in 2006, but her memory has not been lost. There have been several fan sites compiling information about her life and accomplishments. There have also been discussions of making a movie based on the novel. It would be fantastic to see the book come to life on screen. However, the funding is not readily available. If there is a potential movie, I will happily update this review!

Overall, I highly recommend this novel.

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