The One about the Ancestor in the Plantation

Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (1979)

I don’t know about yours, but my first week of September is just brutal! I have so many books I want to talk to you about and so little time… I am back to writing under the strict control of the clock (Pomodoro, here I am… for 25 minutes).

Speaking of brutal, what about the story of a black woman to gets to know a relative of hers, only to discover that the person is brutal, vicious, sexist, racist (she is black) and… a slave owner? (That makes my tough week seem not so bad, after all). And she doesn’t have the option to turn her back on him, it even becomes her duty to make sure that this despicable person does live, even if he has some bad self-destructive tendencies.

It took me a ridiculously long time to start this post, because I didn’t feel qualified to write anything interesting about this book. But I’m still processing it, months after finishing it, because it was so powerful!

The first time I heard about Kindred was through a writer friend to whom I’d asked for recommendation on books about slavery. Then this book was everywhere, in lists about time travel novels, about female unjustly overlooked writers, about POC writing science fiction. Yes, this book is all that and more!

Dana is a black woman living in California in the 1970s. She is an aspiring writer with a boring day job and a white boyfriend who also writes. Out of the blue she develops fainting spells where she suddenly finds herself in the Antebellum south (precisely, Maryland in 1815). What a ride!

As you may remember I enjoyed Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, so that was for me the first point of comparison. (I rarely if ever read any fantasy with time travel or otherwise, but I seem to develop a certain taste in recent years). But my mind was blown. Kindred is so much more powerful than Outlander. It’s not a romance so it doesn’t have to follow certain tropes. Instead, the present and the past keep intersecting as she goes back and forth, and Dana very much keeps her 1970s level-headed mind to solve very complex questions, both practical (I love that she gets to prepare her next fainting spell by packing a knife and some painkillers) and ethical.

It is a harrowing read by definition, but it wasn’t graphic and also not as controversial as Outlander, where sexual abuse is sometimes seen as just another plot point. Instead, it explores race relations in history and in the 1970s present time, family ties, hatred and love. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

PS. May I confess something shameful? The first time I heard about Octavia Butler, I confused her with Octavia Spencer. Uh-oh. Now there’s no risk I’ll make the same mistake again, but I love them both!

5 thoughts on “The One about the Ancestor in the Plantation

  1. This book is one of my go-to recommendations because, as you said, it packs a hell of a punch. 🙂

    Funny enough, my experience was a lot like yours. I read and loved Outlander, but it is not in the same league as Kindred.

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year & The Cream of 2019 | Smithereens

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