Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kindred: Read It!!

I have a new go-to author for science-fiction--Octavia Butler. And a big thank you to my friend Gloria for picking Kindred to read for our book club.

This book was incredible, and I wanted to share.

I don't normally read much but romance. I write it, I read it, and I collect great romance books that I constantly re-read. So when it comes to trying other fiction, I have a tendency to avoid other genres. I like my happily ever after. Dealing with "book mood," that feeling you get after reading a good book, is great when you've just finished a romance where the hero gets the girl. But when reading a book where a character dies, her child is kidnapped and never found, or her parents never talk to her again? Not such a great book mood.

But the book club guarantees I step out of my comfort zone and read different genres and talents I'd never have found on my own. Each meeting, a member chooses a book for us to read. Kindred happens to be a science fiction book that's not really science fiction at all, except for the fact that the protagonist travels back in time.

Here's the gist of the story: Dana is a twenty-six year old black woman in 1976 who somehow gets transported back in time (she gets dizzy and simply vanishes) to antebellum south in the 1800s, where slavery is well in place. She meets Rufus, a young white boy, and to her shock, a distant relative. What happens to Dana's life, in the next two to three weeks (during 1976 when she flashes back in and out of her own time) actually takes place during months and years spent in the past. A few seconds pass in 1976, while hours or weeks pass in the 1800s.

Ms. Butler has an engaging voice, and the book flies by. Before you know it, you're at the end, as if you too have somehow jumped in time. Issues of slavery, what's possible versus what isn't, relationships, and family resonate throughout this book. I couldn't believe how fascinating it was, how effortlessly Ms. Butler wove history into a modern woman's plight when dealing with the past. And as an added twist, the protagonist's husband is white, and he at one point gets dragged into the past with her. Husband and wife, then owner and slave?

The book works so well because it refuses to paint history as, well, black and white. There are too many shades of gray. The older slave owner is a real bastard, but he's not necessarily evil; he's a man of his time. The slaves are treated like possessions, but they are real strong people. Some bond together in adversity, while others turn on one another to advance their own cause. Dana is a strong woman, but she admits she finds it almost too easy to fall into the rhythms of a slave in the past. That she realizes no one can really know history until they've lived it, and that one does what one has to to survive, shows so much growth and understanding. She was a character you can't help rooting for, even as you feel her pain.

This thought-provoking work should be a must read for anyone who likes a book that makes you think: about what it meant to be black versus white in the slave-owned past. About what it was like to be a woman versus a man back when women were often regarded as no more than breeders. More, I think this book makes you think about what it means to be a person facing adversity, and how far we've come in the today's standards, and how much further we have to go.

Note: Octavia Butler died in 2006. She was an American science fiction writer, and one of the best known female African American science fiction writers, period. She won the Hugo and the Nebula awards, and her work is more than relevant today.

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