historical fiction · own voices · speculative fiction

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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On her 26th birthday, Dana and her husband are moving into their apartment when she starts to feel dizzy. She falls to her knees, nauseous. Then the world falls away.

She finds herself at the edge of a green wood by a vast river. A child is screaming. Wading into the water, she pulls him to safety, only to find herself face to face with a very old looking rifle, in the hands of the boy’s father. She’s terrified. The next thing she knows she’s back in her apartment, soaking wet. It’s the most terrifying experience of her life … until it happens again.

The longer Dana spends in 19th century Maryland – a very dangerous place for a black woman – the more aware she is that her life might be over before it’s even begun.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Published: March 27th 2014 by Headline (first published 1979)

Source: Gifted

Thoughts:

I requested more books while my sister was travelling in the US. After recovering from jet-lag, she dropped Kindred on my reading pile. We’ve now reached an unspoken agreement that our joint bookshelf will have more Octavia Butler. I’m in the middle of a readathon but I haven’t moved onto another book after finishing this one. Classic book hangover behaviour.

Historical fiction with a time travel bent is a genre I love. Dana is swept in and out of 19th Century Maryland through a speculative bond between herself and a person from this era. Time travel is based on this link rather than through scientific means. This volatile relationship is the driving force of the novel.

Dana confronts the reality of living in the 19th Century with all its oppressive social mores but she’s also thrown back into trying to adjust to the present social norms of her 1970s life at unpredictable moments. The tense flipping between these opposite states of being is not explored much in the other time travel stories I have read. I thought it was fascinating to read about these world-flipping experiences here.

All of the characters in Kindred are so well rounded and flawed. Following how they change (and/or fail to change) is compelling. Dana grew up reading about the history of slavery but she comes to a greater understanding of systemic racism through her 19th century life.

What affects how we perceive each other’s humanity is a necessary part of all stories. It’s gut-wrenching to read about certain characters who fail to recognise Dana’s humanity as equal to their own. I recommend Kindred to anyone looking for a thrilling but thoughtful character-driven time-travel novel.

 

*Since slavery is a huge part of this story, trigger warnings for violence, rape and attempted suicide within.

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16 thoughts on “Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

    1. I know that feeling! I have a list of authors to try someday. Butler seems well known in US circles but I’m always behind on authors outside of Oz. I’m happy that she’s joined your TBR!

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  1. This is absolutely on my TBR even though I’m not a huge historical fan because I’ve heard so many positive things about it. I’m happy to hear about it from another book blogger though, it increases my confidence that I’ll enjoy it

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    1. Thanks! This was also on my TBR for ages so I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much due to seeing rec’d a lot but it was definitely a thought provoking read.

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  2. I haven’t yet read any Octavia E. Butler, although I’ve heard much about her work, and after your review of this I’m definitely keen. This sounds like such an… interesting, surprising and wonderful. The way you describe this character going between her life and feeling as if she understands things, these certain aspects of her life, and then going back into a whole other time and having to find a way to navigate that whilst also being subjected to racism sounds like it’s been written just so well, and having read your thoughts on this I’m definitely keen to read it for myself and see what I find.

    I’m definitely not someone who seeks out historical fiction, but the time travel aspect is something I think will make that a unique experience, especially going between the two periods rather than the norm of staying confined within one. There are just so many levels to this book that intrigue me, and I’m definitely keen.
    Lovely review, Glaiza. xx

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    1. Thanks Romi! <3. I really love how Butler focuses on how her characters process things in books. Time travel often cuts quicker to the chase than pure historical fiction. Though looking back on this review, all of Butler's books probably need a trigger warning with them since her work often goes dark. She never writes scenes in a gratuitous way, which is probably why I can read some of her darker work. Since slavery is a huge part of the world, this story does have violence, rape and attempted suicide as a warning, which I will add to the review.

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    1. Always blessed by my sister’s presence 😄 I’m curious to read the graphic novel but some scenes are intense, so I wonder how they will be illustrated in the graphic novel. Will check out your review!

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  3. I read this review awhile ago, but never got around to commenting!
    Lovely review, Glaiza. I have this book sitting on my table, and it’s my next read after I finish an ARC! I’m so looking forward to it, and I feel even more excited after reading your review. 😀 I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you when I finish!

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