Rating: 2.5 out of 5
“Slavery was a long slow process of dulling.”
On her twenty-sixth birthday, while unpacking boxes of books in her new home, Dana Edwards is overcome by dizziness. The next thing she knows, she is a meadow and a young, red-haired boy is drowning in a nearby river. Instinctively, Dana saves his life, not knowing that their fates are intricately linked…
Until recently, I believed that I did not know of Octavia E Butler, despite her supposedly being a legend of science fiction. When I went home for Christmas, however, a book on my mother’s shelf caught my eye. Dawn by Octavia E Butler. When I was about 10, I was obsessed with the idea of finally reading “grown-up books”. My mother gave me Dawn. I quickly devoured the entire Lilith’s Brood series, despite only being able to glimpse the meaning of the story. As I went through my undergraduate studies in biology, I often thought about the books and their, to me, revolutionary ideas. As a result of this Christmas revelation, I was pretty excited to read Kindred.
The author wastes no time to get to the heart of the story at the beginning of the book – within the first ten pages, the reader in the middle of the action. As someone who gets frustrated by a lot of the long-windedness of early fantasy and sci-fi, this was truly refreshing. The amount of research that Butler evidently invested into setting this world of the early 1800s is astounding. She manages to convey the imminent sense of threat and pervasive terror the character experiences at all times very well. As a white female, I feel this book has taught me a lot about privilege. According to a podcast I recently listened to, lack of privilege means that no right cannot be taken away – I was distinctly reminded of this as I was reading Kindred. It is epitomized by the relationships in this book – not only between Dana and Weylin/Rufus, but also in her relationship with Alice. For the first two-thirds of the book, the plot was well paced with plenty of tension, which I felt the last third distinctly lacked. I finished the book through sheer determination.
One of my main gripes with Kindred is that I felt no connection to the characters whatsoever. For the majority of the book, Butler flatly describes the action and the protagonist’s thoughts. Even her perpetual fear appears to be held at arm’s length: “The possibility of meeting a white adult here frightened me, more than the possibility of street violence ever had at home.” There are no thudding hearts and clenching guts; no cold sweats and racing thoughts. In several instances, Dana goes from being calm and analytical to completely hysterical in the blink of an eye. Further, despite being depicted as a strong, independent female at the beginning of the book, she continues to trust Rufus, even though he continually betrays her. There is very little evolution in Dana’s character throughout the book until the very final resolution, which felt forced to me. I felt similarly about Rufus, who appears to retain the mind of an 11-year-old for the whole story. Other characters, like Kevin, Sarah and Nigel, felt entirely nondescript.
Overall, Kindred by Octavia E Butler encouraged me to reflect on certain topics that I have had the privilege of never having to think about. I believe this book will stay with me in the future, not because of its breathtaking plot or character design, but because of the issues it explores. Did this book blow me away? Definitely not. Did it make me think? Certainly.