Book Review



  • Author: Octavia E. Butler
  • Genre: Science-Fiction/Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: June 1979
  • Publisher: Recorded Books

CONTENT WARNING: violence, racism, racist terms, slavery, abuse, suicide, mention of rape

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first science-fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of African-American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity.

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Author Octavia E. Butler skilfully juxtaposes the serious issues of slavery, human rights, and racial prejudice with an exciting science-fiction, romance, and historical adventure. Kim Staunton’s narrative talent magically transforms the listener’s earphones into an audio time machine.

I’ve heard a bit about Octavia E. Butler books, and came across this one through my library’s app, and decided to download the audiobook. I’m incredibly glad that I did, and Kim Staunton did an incredible job of narrating this compelling story.

It’s hard to fit this squarely into one genre — it’s got elements of sci-fi/fantasy, as well as historical fiction, and deeply moving accounts of slavery. In addition, it’s a stunning look at human rights during the time of enslavement, race relations both in the time of slavery and in the mid-1970s, and the lengths we go to for family and personal obligations.

Dana is a likable character right from the start. She’s level headed and reasonable, even in the most unreasonable situations. Dana is clearly a feminist and an empowered, modern woman (at least in terms of the 1970s). After recently moving into a new house, she and her husband are shocked when she just … disappears. While Kevin is worrying about where she went, she’s thrown into the past, where she sees a drowning white boy and rescues him. After the crisis has passed, instead of being thanked, she’s verbally abused and physically attacked, and quickly realizes that she isn’t in her own times. She makes a connection between the boy, Rufus, and her own family history, and discovers that she’s being sent back in time to save his life so that he can father her family line. 

Rufus is a tough character. At first, it’s easy to chalk his language and behavior up to being a product of his times, growing up in Antebellum Maryland as the son of a slaveholder. I loved that he was at least somewhat quick to learn certain things and be respectful towards his guardian angel, Dana. But as he grows up in his own time, he gradually becomes a character that I liked less and less, until I despised him by the end. We know that he fathered one of her ancestors, but she wasn’t sure of the circumstances, despite being somewhat aware of her own family history through a bible passed down through the generations. 

I was quickly engrossed in this story, which I couldn’t stop listening to. I wanted to find out what happened next, not just for Dana, but for all the other characters as well. The side characters are well-rounded and each is interesting in their own right. Dana acts out of what she feels is a responsibility to her own family and loyalty, but she’s also a good person, behaving with compassion, even towards characters who don’t deserve it. Fitting into the past is difficult for her, especially as a woman in an interracial relationship in her own time. But she’s smart and a quick thinker, and manages to save Rufus not just that one time, but several others over the years, to help ensure her own family line. 

There’s a lot of use of racial slurs, and since it was written in the 1970s, words are used that aren’t acceptable in today’s society, such as the “r-word” for people with developmental disabilities. But I didn’t feel that it was fair to judge this book simply for using terminology that was common at the time with no alternatives. However, the message in this story is a timeless one, and I’m so glad that I stumbled on this amazing read.

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