The Skinny: Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s, finds herself constantly forced back into the antebellum South. Each time she saves the son of a plantation owner’s son, Rufus, and forced to play the part of the slave until she’s transported home. But each stay proves increasingly dangerous.
Kindred was an interesting book to dive into. I’ve been meaning to dig into an Octavia Butler book for a few years now and after an eventful bookstore trip, I decided to pick up this one first. It took several months after to unearth it from my TBR pile and I wasn’t disappointed.
One of the things that I found most interesting about this book (and what it’s most often remarked on in reference to it) is how it blends genres. Of course, there’s sci-fi with its time-traveling element but there’s also historical fiction. It uses futuristic elements to explore the past which I always find an interesting premise. The story more specifically fashions itself after the traditional slave narratives where former slaves recount the horrors of their experience. At the time, they were more utilized for advocacy purposes by abolitionists to bring an end to the institution. Think Harriet Jacob’s Incidents from the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) or Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845).
Articulating how I feel about books like these are difficult. I’m not quite sure about my decision to read this so soon after Homegoing. I was hit by the same feelings, hurt by the emotional rollercoaster, musing over the same thoughts long after finishing.
It’s another book that touches on the impact of chattel slavery and its dehumanizing effects on the human soul. How slaves are forced day by agonizing day to making the best from a terrible situation. Like Homegoing it also takes on the impact of erasure, where family lines are cut, blurred or erased completely due to the institution. I would like to say that this was a difficult read due to the brutality of the narrative but I’ve read books like this before both fictionalized and not. It was hard to read but it was a harshness that I’ve grown used to.
Despite the last statement, this book does manage to set itself apart by its characters and how they interact with each other. The relationship that develops between Dana and Rufus was one plagued with strife (to put it extremely mildly) but it was underpinned by an intrinsic trust built on the other’s preservation. Seeing how this plays out throughout the course of the narrative kept me engaged throughout. Dana coming to terms with the era, interacting with the various people within and her place within it was also something that kept me feverishly turning through the pages.
This book has a lot of heavy moments–a lot of painful moments–but I recommend it to anyone curious about the period. It’s an excellent historical narrative and a great introduction to Octavia Butler.