Books I Read: Kindred

Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Science Fiction
First Published: 1979
Content Rating: R for beatings, whippings, and attempted rape

Dana, an African-American writer from the 20th century, is transported to pre-Civil War Maryland to save the life of a white boy named Rufus -- the son of a slave owner and Dana's ancestor. As Rufus grows older, Dana is called back again and again. Each time, her stay is longer and more dangerous. She refuses to be treated as a slave, but she has no rights and no help -- quiet submission is often less painful than the whip. But as Rufus grows meaner and more possessive, Dana must decide if slavery is worth her life, or his.

This is a dark book, but really powerful. It's an amazing look at slavery through the eyes of a woman born free in 1979 California. Dana is forced to decide what she really believes about slavery and herself. There are many times when she thinks she would do anything rather than be enslaved, whipped, or even raped, but when it comes down to it, the choices are much harder to make in reality. Rufus is an interesting character too. Alternately generous and vicious -- totally racist but less so than many others of his time -- it was difficult to hate him even when he did terrible things.

There's one scene in particular I want to share with you. Dana (the narrator) is talking with a mute named Carrie, another slave. Dana feels guilty for saving Rufus after all the terrible things he does to her and other people. Carrie reminds her that if Rufus died, things would be much worse; all the slaves might be sold off, families would be separated.

Carrie stood looking down at the crib as though she had read my thought.

"I was beginning to feel like a traitor," I said. "Guilty for saving him. Now . . . I don't know what to feel. Somehow, I always seem to forgive him for what he does to me. I can't hate him the way I should until I see him doing things to other people." I shook my head. "I guess I can see why there are those here who think I'm more white than black."

Carrie made quick waving-aside gestures, her expression annoyed. She came over to me and wiped one side of my face with her fingers--wiped hard. I drew back, and she held her fingers in front of me, showed me both sides. But for once, I didn't understand.

Frustrated, she took me by the hand and led me out to where her husband Nigel was chopping firewood. There, before him, she repeated the face-rubbing gesture, and he nodded.

"She means it doesn't come off, Dana," he said quietly. "The black. She means the devil with people who say you're anything but what you are."

I hugged her and got away from her quickly so that she wouldn't see that I was close to tears.

Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

1 comment:

MattyDub said...

Octavia Butler is just incredible. I have a hard time reading her books because they're so powerful, and usually so painful. But I know I'm going to read more, because she's just so good.