Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred


Rating: 5 Stars

I lost an arm on my last trip home.



The Plot

On her 26th birthday, Dana is transported back in time and space to the ante bellum South. The last place in history a black woman wants to be in. But Dana has no choice. Her fate and the fate of Rufus, the heir to the plantation and her distant ancestor, are intertwined.

Dana has to find a way to survive in a world where she has no rights and noone to help her.


Review

How do I even start to review this book? I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. When I was finished I just stared into space for a long time.

Let’s start with Dana. I have rarely been more afraid for a character. It is pretty clear from the beginning, that she will survive, but her death wasn’t what scared me. It was what she would have to go through. Because as a black woman, the ante bellum, slave-owning south is the last place you want to be.

Now I knew I was farther from home than I had thought. And now I knew why Rufus’s father used his whip on ‘niggers’ as well as horses.



The book creates the atmosphere of oppression and just utter helplessness perfectly.

The helplessness was probably the worst for me. There’s noone she could call for help. There were no laws that protected her. There was no way she could fight back. There’s just absolutely nothing she could do except keep her head down and hope for the best.

Behind him, his child wept noisily against her mother’s leg, but the woman, like her husband, was silent. She clutched the child to her and stood, head down, refusing to watch the beating.

Then the man’s resolve broke. He began to moan – low gut-wrenchign sounds torn from him against his will. Finally, he began to scream.



It was absolutely terrible. That people could just do anything they wanted to her and people like her. And they did. And law and custom was on their side. Seriously, fuck the past. How could people do that to each other?

“Is Carrie your daughter?”

Sarah nodded. “My fourth baby. The only one Marse Tom let me keep.” Her voice trailed away to a whisper.



And then there’s Rufus. We first meet him when he is a three year old kid drowning. Dana saves him. And she keeps saving him. Every time he is in danger, he calls her through time to him.

In the beginning, there’s hope. After all, Dana saves him. I thought she could change him, make him into a good guy who frees everyone when he is older. And they lived happily ever after.

I’m glad that wasn’t the story. This one was, emotionally, more difficult to read, but it was also a much better story.

Rufus didn’t turn into some white hero. He wasn’t a villain either, not really. He was much, much scarier than that.

He is masterfully written. Dana, and I, as the reader, forgave him so many of his transgressions. Because I wanted to believe that he could change for the better. I wanted it so badly, because he was Dana’s only hope in that time, the only kind of protection she could hope for.

But then the book continues. At one point I had to put it down because I was so mad at Rufus. I hated him with a passion. I have never hated a character more than I hated him. Fuck that guy.

“You want her to get hurt?”

“Of course not. But you’ve already decided to hurt her, haven’t you?”

He didn’t answer.

“Let her go, Rufe. Hasn’t she sufferd enough because of you?”

He wouldn’t. I knew he wouldn’t.

His green eyes glittered. “She’ll never get away from me again. Never!”



The truly scary thing about Rufus is that he’s not some kind of supervillain. Don’t get me wrong, he behaves atrociously. I hated his guts by the end. But the fact that I was ready to forgive him for so much. That he had his likeable moments. He was so… ordinary in a way.

When Rufus wanted something, he just took it. He took it by guile or by force. He didn’t care as long as he got what he wanted. And he wanted Alice. And Dana.

He was the kind of person anyone of us could know. He wasn’t a sadist. He wasn’t some removed evil or inherently evil. He was a man with too much power. And that made him so, so scary for me. The ordinariness of his evil. The simple pettiness.

I don’t think any book has ever brought the reality of that time closer to me than this one. The ordinariness of the violence and the terrible things the white guys do. The terrible helpnessless. This book has touched me like few others. It made me rage and cringe and fear. Everyone should read it.



Conclusion

This book is amazing and heartbreaking and everyone should read it.

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