Book Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler’sĀ KindredĀ tells the story of a young, 1970s African-American writer, Dana, who is miraculously transported back in time periodically to the 19th century to aid her white ancestor, Rufus, and save him from harm. The purpose of this miracle seems to be to allow Dana to live through the trials and misfortunes of her ancestors and gain a new appreciation for freedom and a level of social equity. She struggled against the institution of slavery and all of the disturbing situations and choices it created. The horrific beatings and whippings turned out to be the least of horrors when children were torn from their mothers, women were raped, and lynchings were commonplace. Dana tried to preserve her dignity and 20th century sensibilities, but ultimately is forced to make a life-changing decision that will follow her forever. The book interrogates the deranged relationships which occur under slavery in which both master and slave are dependent upon one another, while the master’s desire to control and dominate the slave makes even the most strained cooperation maddening or impossible. The novel illustrates how devastating social hierarchies are, not only for the social inferior, but also the social superior. Dana oscillated between submission and defiance, trying to find the path of least resistance and least ethical compromise. In the end, the novel granted Dana self-determination as she seized the morsel of power she had to save herself and return to her present day a changed woman. The novel is a worthy read and a fascinating look at the psyche of slave and master.