“Time passed. Kevin and I became more a part of the household, familiar, accepted, accepting. That disturbed me too when I thought about it. How easily we seemed to acclimatize.”-Octavia E. Butler, Kindred
“Kindred,” by Octavia E. Butler is a classic science fiction novel that was first published in June 1979. The novel is one part science fiction, and a second part historical fiction. Unexpectedly and beyond her control, Dana, a 26-year-old Black woman living in 1976 is transported back to 1819, on the plantation where her ancestors were enslaved in Maryland.
On the plantation she meets Rufus, a white, red hair child, and Alice, a black girl to whom she shares a vague resemblance. While Ms. Butler doesn’t get into any of the details of how the time-travel occurs, this transportation of Dana the past makes the history of the antebellum South come alive. The viciousness of slaveholding plantation owners, the whippings and beatings to make an example of a slave when they stepped out of line, the patrollers that round up runaway slaves and then dragged them behind their horses, the treatment of slaves as property to buy and sell, and the owners lack of regard for this property that is considered subhuman.
On aspect of the book that I truly appreciated was how Butler developed the characters and then started to look into the psychological reasons behind why, the concepts around slavery and respect, the way this outsider from another time adapted to the new surroundings she faced, and what she would accept or put up with to avoid pain and not rock the boat. Throughout the book, Dana returns back to this plantation multiple times after different points in Rufus’ life from childhood and into adulthood, and how each trip, Dana’s approach changes, slowly evolving from a place of acceptance and submission, then to a place of standing up for herself and resisting the powers that be. In each iteration she assumes more volition and agency over the situation.
This was an excellent book with lots of different ideas to ponder and with the current social landscape seems more relevant today than even at the time it was published in the late 1970s. Today is a time more than ever when we as a society are starting to see the importance of people groups and their basic human need for agency and to determine for themselves what is important as well as what is right and fair.