Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred is a tale of a black woman living in 1976 who is transported back to 1815 on a plantation in Maryland where her ancestors are living. Dana is somehow called whenever Rufus, a white child of slave owners, finds himself in a dangerous situation. Dana’s quest becomes ensuring that her ancestors survive the devastation of the plantation and in order to do that she must protect Rufus whenever he calls her back.

Along the way, Dana has to deal with typical time travel dilemmas while dealing with the horrific fate of slavery and the conventions of the time. In order to fit in to the time period while she’s stuck in the past, Dana has to pass for a slave and learn to behave like a slave. All while teaching and learning from her “owner” Rufus and trying to teach him about racial equality and human relationships.

This book is ultimately about slavery and slaves. There are some gruesome scenes which I think are necessary in order to tell the story. Dana has to go through a learning experience with the reader. She, like the reader, knew about slavery, but to witness and be an unwilling participant forces both to face the truth of slavery in a personal way. Butler captured not just what it might have been like to be a slave, but what it would be like to be a mother, a father, a friend under the most horrifying circumstances.

Butler writes very simply, almost as if written as young adult fiction. Her characters and scenes are written simply, but Butler is able to weave a deep undercurrent of emotion that makes the reader hurt with the characters.

This book should be taught in high schools to teach history as well as compassion for each other. It was a horrible story told with the right touch of emotion and history.

Read April 2013


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