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Cannonball Read IV: Kindred by Octavia Butler

By The Scruffy Rube | Book Reviews | September 7, 2012 | Comments ()


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There's something captivating about the first few pages of Butler's book, Kindred. Within moments, just as you get comfortable with the characters and 1979 Californian setting, you are hurled (along with the protagonist Dana Franklin) across time and space to an antebellum riverside where a young boy's life is in jeopardy. Despite the inexplicable and jarring nature of this time travel, both the audience and the character must commit to the circumstances of this situation: hoping to save a life because our natural human impulses command it.

But Kindred has more than just a clever opening. As the story unfolds, Dana must consider the complex interplay of love for family and social justice. For a twentieth century African-American citizen to dive into the world of slavery with perpetual fear and palpable anger in every heartbeat-all for the sake of her white, slave-owning ancestor-is to experience history afresh. Butler manages to not just present or explore an often silently accepted splotch on our American history, but to live it, to battle it and to grudgingly appreciate parts of it.

Few authors have the skill to make this rigorous inhabitation of history (mixed with a healthy-dollop of science fiction) work, but Butler makes it seem effortless. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the characters (both historical and contemporary) seem grounded in genuine humanity and they are easy to relate to, regardless of your own ethnicity. Our emotions are as conflicted as Dana's, our experience as complex and uncomfortable. The deeper we dig into the book the better we can appreciate issues not just of race, but of honesty and ignorance, violence and love. That's precisely the kind of work that both my students and I can sink our teeth into with relish.


This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of The Scruffy Rube's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • QueBarbara

    This is the best book I've read in ages. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Thanks for the tip.

  • Jerce

    I haven't read this book, but I've read other works of hers, and I can't recommend the lady enough. She was a very skilled writer who tackled difficult ideas, using "science fiction" tropes in new and wonderful ways.
    I plan to read this book ASAP. Thank you for the excellent review.

  • valerie

    This book is AMAZING. I had to read it in in college for a Black Literature course and was completely blown away by how different and modern it was from everything else we were reading. And this is a book written in the 70s if I'm not mistaken. To say she's ahead of her time is an understatement. This is a must for anyone interested in reading about slavery OR science fiction.

  • naye in VA

    I had a co-worker bring a box of books to work to give away a few years ago, and I didn't even remember grabbing this one. I chanced upon it buried in my room last year, and read it, and was amazed I had never heard of it before. it was painful and conflicting, but most great stories are.

  • That's what I love about Butler's books - she's the perfect example of how science fiction can be used to explore not strange worlds but our own humanity. Her characters feel so real, even when they're thrown back in time or wake up on foreign planets like in her other works.

  • idiosynchronic

    Octavia Butler is a goddamn, unsung, national treasure.

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