Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kindred

Kindred
Author: Octavia Butler
Beacon Press, 2004 [originally published in 1979]
287 pages

I would like to thank work friends Lauren and Shakira for introducing me to the amazing world of Octavia Butler! :-)

It's 1976, the year of America's Bicentennial. While moving into her new Los Angeles home with her husband Kevin, Dana begins to feel dizzy. Suddenly, she's transported back in time to the year 1815 to a plantation on the eastern shore of Maryland. A young boy is drowning, and Dana saves his life. The boy happens to be her ancestor, Rufus Weylin, son of the plantation owner.

This first trip is one of several Dana makes to the nineteenth century. We're never told exactly how the time travel works. It's just a given, and it happens whenever Rufus's life is in danger. Dana may be gone for days or weeks or even months at a time, but when she returns to 1976, only a few minutes have passed by.

Each time Dana makes a trip, she stays a little longer and sees a little more of the grim realities of life during that time period. Since Dana is black and educated, she's viewed as a threat to plantation society. Each time she returns, the level of danger increases.

Dana's other ancestor is Alice, who was born free. As one character in Kindred pointed out: a free person's papers could easily be destroyed. Rufus and Alice were friends when they were young, but as they grow older Rufus becomes obsessed with her. His obsession ultimately leads to Alice's enslavement.

During one visit, her husband Kevin goes with her back in time. Kevin is white, and was probably the most complex character in the book. He seems like a fairly liberal kind of guy in 1976, and is disgusted by much of what he sees in the nineteenth century. But as Dana notes, he adjusts a little too easily. He also has a much more difficult time readjusting when he returns to the 'present' day.

Kindred is an amazing book and a genuine rollercoaster of a ride. It also makes you think about the concept known as 'man's inhumanity to man' and why/how it is that society often supports unethical behavior even when it's clearly wrong.

Coming up next . . . something light and breezy! My brain is a little fried from all these heavy subjects lately. :-)