Kindred by Octavia E Butler
I’d heard about Octavia Butler – and what a good author she was – for a while before I managed to get my hands on a copy of Kindred. She wrote Kindred in 1979, when she was already an established novelist, and it was her best selling book.
It is the story of Dana, a modern black woman in America who is sent back in time to 19th century Maryland to save the life of a white boy who turns out to be her direct ancestor. As the story goes on, she is snatched from her modern life several times, each time at a critical point in the life of her ancestor Rufus. She also meets Alice, a black woman who is also her ancestor. She needs to save the lives of both of them, to ensure that she will exist at all.
And it’s not easy. In the 19th century, her black skin marks her as a slave, though she struggles throughout to retain her independence. And she’s not always alone in the past – her white husband Kevin gets dragged along, too, and his experiences as a white man are quite different to Dana’s. He starts off almost oblivious to racism, and gradually comes round to fighting oppression in the past as an anti-slavery activist.
Dana is immersed in the life of the past, but acts as an observer, seeing how the institution of slavery warps the lives of the slaves, and also of the masters.
It is the sort of book that the reader gets immersed in, too. This is science fiction as literature, and it’s no wonder Octavia Butler went on to win several Hugo awards for her work, as well as Locus and Nebula and other Sciene Fiction awards. She was an influential figure in the science fiction community. Sadly, she died at the age of 58, in 2006.
Octavia Butler’s books don’t turn up second hand very often. They’re worth grabbing with both hands if you do see them!
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