Oof. I’ve been letting the team down. And, it hasn’t been because I haven’t been reading (as anyone who follows me on goodreads knows). It also hasn’t been because I haven’t been writing. This review has been in draft for a month. But, this review has been a long time coming for the following reason: I can’t believe I’m going to review this amazing book with a narrative that centers on the experiences of an African-American woman talking about a white male character. But, I am.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler is the story of a woman named Dana who is sent back in time to the antebellum South. She is pulled there by an ancestor who is, to put it mildly, not very good at taking care of himself. Over the course of the narrative, we are introduced over and over again to the horrors of slavery in an intimate and heartbreaking way. This book was amazing for it’s tension and suspense. I loved Dana and I wanted to know what happened to her. I was scared for her and I wanted there to be a happy ending. But, it is also uncomfortable. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “but there were good slave owners”, this fictional story might be a good way into interrogating those feelings because, even when an overseer or owner was fair, any outcome that involves owning another person is horrific.
Spoilers behind the cut.
The character I want to focus on, though, is Kevin, Dana’s husband. He grabs onto her and travels back in time with her. He’s then left in the past. (After having a “wow, it’s real” moment. Yes, it’s real. Why would anyone lie about something this crazy?) When she next returns, some years have past for Kevin, even though it’s only been days for her. She’s told by her ancestor that he went North and his letters suggest that he has kept going North. She wonders what he is doing, what he is looking for.
I think I might know.
When we learned about Pre-Civil War America as a white kid in my largely white school, we were told that the North opposed slavery and the South was for it. We were given this Black and White narrative that makes it seem like the South is evil and the North is good. I think Kevin had heard that story, too. I think he went North in search of anti-racist sentiment. I think he was looking for a place where Black people were truly free. (Although, why he would think that when in 1976 people have turned their backs on Dana and him because they are an interracial couple is a question for another day.) And, I think what he found were people who didn’t own slaves but were still complicit in slavery and anti-black sentiment. I think he thought that because it wasn’t as bad in the North, that it would be good. And, when he didn’t find it, I think he kept looking.
And, I think, that might be one of the important messages of the book: You can not actively participate in oppression but still be a part of it by not doing anything to stop it.
I read this book for a book club and one of the things that was said at Book Club that has stuck with me is that it is not enough to not be a racist, if we want to affect change, we need to be anti-racist. I don’t think that’s something that occurred to Kevin.
If you like any of the following: Sci-fi, time travel, and social commentary this book is for you. And, it was a lot ahead of its time. I’ve not gotten into this but the text explicitly addresses Dana’s experiences as and an African-American and as a woman. In 1976, Octavia Butler was thinking about intersectionality. This book is so well-written that I was engulfed in the narrative, terrified for the main characters and it brought up so many things that even after two month I’m still thinking about it.