Ohhh, Octavia Butler. You are a clever, clever writer. My first experience with Butler was when I taught a Science Fiction and Fantasy class. I picked the short story, "Bloodchild", completely at random because I knew of Butler, but had never read her work myself. I was completely blow away by the story and my class had a profound discussion of gender roles, power structures, and colonization. Just a fascinating, multi-faceted story.
Having read that short story really enriched my experience reading Kindred for this More Diverse Universe (#Diversiverse) event. It's obvious that many of the same themes run through these two works, and it was interesting to see them examined from different points of view and in different historical and narrative contexts.
Kindred is the story of Dana, an African American woman living in 1976, working as a writer, and married to a white man. She's educated, she's headstrong, she's settled. Until she's thrown back in time to the slave-holding South in the 1800s and saves the life of a white child named Rufus. On that first visit, she's barely there any time before she's again sucked into her own time. As it turns out, she's continually called to save Rufus's life as he grows up. The time she spends in the past is variable and while she might be gone for 8 months in the past, the time that's elapsed in 1976 might only be a few minutes or hours.
As Dana spends more time in the past she forges a strong, and not terribly healthy, relationship with Rufus. He is certainly a product of his time. While he loves Dana (she's a savior figure to him), he also treats her like a slave! Consequential beatings and the whole nine yards. The relationship of theirs is a classic power struggle as they both need each other to survive.
Dana quickly discovers, to her horror, how easy it is to be subjugated. Should she let Rufus's behavior slide to avoid a beating? Is it worth standing up to the owner or easier to slide into oblivion and oppression to keep one's life? To keep a family together? To pacify the owner?
It's a tough book to read in spots, for sure, but so well-crafted and thought-provoking. After reading "Bloodchild" it was interesting to see this oppressive society (even though it's a different society) examined from a female point-of-view and in a different historical context.
My only problem with this book was the writing. Butler is not a bad writer, certainly far from it, but Dana's speech and dialogue seemed stilted and stiff. I'm not sure if this was meant to differentiate her from the residents of the 19th century south or what. It was a little annoying, but nothing to damage my enjoyment of the themes here.
Still haven't read Butler? You totally need to get on that! I know I'll be reading more.
Pub. Date: Originally in 1979; my edition February 2004
And if you'd rather SEE me ramble...here you go!