Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Beacon Press, Boston, 1988
A young black women, Dana Franklin is living in California in 1976. Suddenly, after a bout of dizzyness, she finds herself in Maryland sometime in the early 1880’s. She is dragged through time by Rufus, a white man, son of a slave owner. Anytime he is in danger of dying Dana is drawn sickeningly to his side. There is a deep connection between these two and an intense love hate relationship. Dana is thrown into a slave owning household and must contend with everything that entails. Why?
Dana eventually realizes that Rufus is her great great grandfather and that she must help him, at least until the birth of his daughter, Hagar, whose mother is a slave in Rufus household. Hagar will start Dana’s family line. As Dana travels through time again and again, Rufus grows older and becomes more hostile and abusive. Dana and those around her suffer the back-breaking work, verbal battering and physical cruelty that is slavery. What a realization, that your ancestor was a slave owner who raped women, sold children and beat people for the slightest miss-step. What a horror, knowing that you must keep him alive.
An intensely researched and well-written book, Octavia Butler argued that Kindred was not science fiction, the time travel element is never explained. Kindred is more like horror and Dana’s dilemma left a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. This book is a striking presentation of the mix of power, race and gender that was slavery in the United States.
W&B: You said that Kindred was the first novel that you knew of that tried to make readers understand what it felt like to be a slave.
Butler:Not so much make a person understand, but confront a modern person with that reality of history. It’s one thing to read about it and cringe that something horrible is happening. I sent somebody into it who is a person of now, of today, and that means I kind of take the reader along and expose them in a way that the average historic novel doesn’t intend to, can’t.