The death of Octavia Butler in 2006 removed a brilliant black SF writer from our fold. I’ve read some of her books before and loved her ability to tell stories. Headline are in the process of re-releasing all of her books, starting with her third novel ‘Kindred’ from 1979.
In simple terms, this is a timeslip story with Dana finding herself perpetually back in 19th century Maryland where the black people as slaves were frequently abused and attacked by their white owners. On one occasion, she inadvertently takes her white husband, Kevin, with her who finds himself left in the past for five years. The time drift in the future could be measured in days at most is not the same in the past when years drift by. What draws Dana into the past is the injuries that Rufus Weylin, the white son of a Maryland estate owner, receives and she is there to patch him up as he grows up. Unfortunately, he turns out to have a nasty side on par with his father. To get back into the future, Dana finds that she has to be threatened with death or badly injure herself for it to happen. With black slavery, that problem would continually raise its head. It then becomes a balancing act to try not to dirty the waters too much on return each time or risk making it worse for herself when she returns. Considering Rufus sees her vanish, I suspect he was a little more careful with her but not much.
This story offers an opportunity to compare modern day acceptance to America’s southern states racism which, as we all know, was not only deeply unpleasant, but degrading and deadly to the slaves. Well and truly, this story is less about time travel and more about slavery in the southern states from a future 1970s perspective. Because of her background, Dana being able to read gave her a slightly easier time than had she had no skills to call upon.
Seeing what happens to her fellow slaves will make most of you feel sick but I do urge you to read this book. Similar to the film ‘Mississippi Burning’, ‘Kindred’ is the kind of book you really do need to read at least once in your life. Slavery is something that we should abhor in any time period. It is no wonder that this book put Octavia Butler on the map in all genres. Truly touching.
(pub: Headline. 295 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4722-1481-2)
check out website: www.headline.co.uk