Kindred by Octavia Butler

I finished Kindred by Octavia Butler, and it was quite good. I wrote a review. Go forth and read.

The book
This is about a young black woman named Dana who has just turned 26, and has just moved into a new house with her white husband Kevin. She is suddenly called back in time to the 1800s in Maryland and has to save the life of a young boy who is almost drowning. Over the next month or two she is called back to Rufus’ time several times, always there to save him from something. No matter how long she stays in the past it always seems like she’s been gone for only a couple of minutes or hours. She can’t stop herself from coming back, and she discovers she has something of a bond with Rufus Weylin who keeps dragging her back 150 years.

It’s really good and very fascinating. It’s sort of a historical fiction mixed with science fiction.

It isn’t clear how Dana is dragged back, and it seems like she and Rufus are just very connected. I kind of liked that it wasn’t explained, and just this thing that happened and kept happening.

I was a bit… It’s written very starkly and it’s very impersonal, I guess. I didn’t feel like I got very connected with Dana, and I feel like she and Kevin weren’t very emotional and loving towards each other. They were very rational and stark, and… yeah. It might have been a good thing, because Dana is brought back to a time where she’s in a more dangerous position than she is back home. In 1976 in California she is obviously subjected to racism and prejudice, especially since she’s married to a white man. In the early 1800s in Maryland she manages to come across as a freedwoman, but she is still seen as a slave, and still assumed to be owned by someone else. And since she has very limited knowledge of Maryland before the Civil War she keeps making missteps and messing up. And it often puts her in dangerous situations.

I feel like Kevin accepted the idea that Dana went back in time really easily. Like he probably went the Sherlock Holmes route and eliminated the impossible and decided that whatever was left had to be true, but he seemed so willing to just go, yeah, my wife goes back in time. I realize that Dana had enough trouble, so it might be too much to add more conflict just for conflict’s sake, but it just seemed a bit easy I guess. Rufus took longer, which makes sense, because he was from another time, but he also got proof, so I guess that makes sense.

I think the stark language worked well for the book, because while it was hard to connect with Dana it worked well for the horrible stories of slavery in the book. Dana has to live on the plantation and deal with being a black person in the pre-Civil War South. The things that are done to her and to the people around her are described in such stark and harsh terms, and it made it feel more real and powerful I think. It made me feel so awful and so pained and it is just so horrifying.

I don’t know much about pre-Civil War Maryland either, even less than Dana, so I can’t say much for the accuracy and how close to history it is, but it feels right. I also think I read that Butler really wanted the book to be accurate, so a lot of that is put into the book. The way white people in the book talk about black people and slaves is so awful, and the way some of the slaves have sort of been taken in, just to survive I suppose, is heartbreaking and amazing. The things that they did to Dana are awful and painful, and made me a little sick, which I suppose is good.

It was interesting to see how quickly Kevin and Dana sort of adapted to the roles that the 1800s gave them. How easy it was for Dana to become a servant, and how easily Kevin slipped into the role of white person in that time. It clearly bothered the two of them too. They were probably hyper aware of it since they were a mixed race couple, and I’m glad they never lost the focus that they weren’t from that time and that they were equals.

The horror of Rufus’ relationship with Alice was incredibly painful. I realize it’s probably common that slave owners raped their slaves, but that Rufus seemed to love her and at the same time feel entitled to her just made it more painful. It was so clear that Rufus loved Alice, a very dark, twisted, entitled love, and that she only went to him because it was the least heinous choice. It was so weird and sick to read how misguided Rufus was, and that he seemed to think Alice loved him too, and it made me think of the slave women who were no doubt subjected to the same thing.


It was very painful, and very beautiful in its own stark simplicity. It was dark, and sort of haunting. So yes, very good.