Octavia Butlerís Kindred tells the story of a young contemporary black woman named Dana, from 1976, and her mysterious bond to a distant relative living in 1800s Maryland.
When the young son of a plantation owner nearly drowns as a child Dana finds herself transported to the past to help save his life. She soon discovers that the only way she can return to the present is to have her own life threatened.
As the story unfolds Dana is forced to enter an uneasy alliance with Rufus, the young man she rescued, as she strives to keep him out of danger long enough to sire her great-great-grandmother Hagard.
Butlerís seminal work uses time travel as a literary device to its fullest potential. By transporting a modern day narrator to pre-civil war Maryland, the reader is given a contemporary viewpoint to relate to in Dana's character. As she struggles to come to terms with the harsh conditions of Rufusí time the reader too is confronted with the day-to-day challenges of the period.
Each time Dana is called to the past to rescue Rufe, months or years have passed for him, while in Danaís own time only hours or days have passed. This use of differential time is not done to simply underscore the use of time travel as a literary device, but serves to compress the passage of time and heighten the dangers and rigours Dana faces.
Danaís multiple trips to the past are nearly consecutive with very little time to recover emotionally or physically between episodes. Indignities suffered by Dana on her visits are not dulled by time as they are for her tormentors and the other slaves on the plantation. By contrast after Danaís husband Kevin becomes trapped in the past during one of her visits to Maryland, he is forced to adapt to the period. As a white male, Kevin finds himself in position where he can use what little influence he has to assist the black slaves in their struggle. The time spent living in the past and adapting to the social climate of the time takes its toll on Kevin who has a difficult time accepting the present when he eventually returns.
Butler does such a wonderful job drawing us into Dana's life and the past with her prose, that when the conclusion of the novel arrives you are left feeling cheated it ended so abruptly. The novel's characters and setting are so rich it feels as if there is so much more of Dana and Kevin's life that we want to know.
A very educational and emotional read that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.
R E L A T E D L I N K S
Octavia Butler - Voices from the Gaps - Women Writers of Color
Octavia Butler - Time Warner Books
A biography of Octavia Butler and links to reviews of several of her Science Fiction books.
Kindred - eNotes
A paid site with some free excerpts on such things as summary, characters, themes, historical context, criticism and analysis, and pictures related to Kindred.
Review Posted: 2004-10-29
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