Review | Kindred

Octavia Butler

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Kindred is a book I picked up on a lonely Saturday afternoon and stuck to me so much that I finished it in a single sitting. I’ve had Kindred on my Goodreads (horrifically long) TBR list for ages, and without reading the blurb (as I usually do), picked it up purely based on the fantastic ratings and recommendations. Spoiler alert: it didn’t disappoint. I listened to the audiobook for this one and the performance was incredible. I’ve listened to audiobook versions of older books, and sometimes they can come off a little flat. Fortunately, the narrator, Kim Staunton did a fantastic job and kept me hooked for all 10 hours.

Kindred follows Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s, who is mysteriously transported back to the 1800s and meets a young boy, Rufus, alongside one of his slaves, who she suspects to be her great grandmother.

“Then, somehow, I got caught up in one of Kevin’s World War II books – a book of excerpts from the recollections of concentration camp survivors. Stories of beatings, starvation, filth, disease, torture, every possible degradation. As though the Germans had been trying to do in only a few years what the Americans had worked at for nearly two hundred. 
… Like the Nazis, antebellum whites had known quite a bit about torture – quite a bit more than I ever wanted to learn.” 

It was only after finishing the book that I discovered that this book was written forty years ago and I was floored. It felt like this book could have been written yesterday with just how timely it is. I can’t stress how important this book is.

While categorised as sci-fi, the novel isn’t too heavy on the elements of the genre and are more used as a vessel in which the story is allowed to happen. The difference between Kindred and other books about African-American slavery is the constant reminder of how things are now contrasted against how things were then. Every time Dana is pulled back into the current time, the reader feels incredibly disoriented and can’t help but empathise with how Dana feels fortunate to not live back in the 1800s. This is further highlighted by points in the story where she feels frustrated by not being able to say or do things that to us – in a time of relative freedom – would feel completely normal doing. For example, the slaves back in that time period were not allowed to learn how to read or write because their owners feared that it would give them power through having more knowledge than the owners themselves. There are times in the novel where Dana is forbidden from reading, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like if someone slapped a book out of my hand every time I picked it up! While my immediate response would be to slap them right back, but for slaves in that time, that could have meant a beating – even death – and nothing could be more horrifying to me.

“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”

My boyfriend and I were talking about the prevalence of representation of minorities in the media and how, in some cases more than others, it is so important to remember the mistakes we’ve made in the past to ensure they don’t happen again. Kindred is a perfect novel for that perspective and is definitely a book you should read now, and again in the future. Never take your freedoms for granted and always show people the love and respect that they deserve.

xo Pattycakes

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