How have I never read anything by Octavia Butler before? This book was fantastic, and I have got to find more of her work — does anyone have any suggestions??
Kindred stars a black woman named Dana, who lives in California in the 1970s. On her 26th birthday, she starts to feel dizzy, then suddenly finds herself on the side of a riverbank next to a drowning boy. She saves the boy, almost on instinct, and later realizes that she’s traveled back in time & space to pre-Civil War Maryland. She returns to her present day apartment after what feels like close to an hour to her, but turns out to be only seconds to her husband, whom she had left behind. She’s yanked back in time over and over, for longer and longer each time. Each visit coincides with that same boy (who turns out to be an ancestor named Rufus) being in danger. And while Dana can’t control her visits, she does find the connection to what brings her back.
“Rufus had caused her trouble, and now he had been rewarded for it. It made no sense. No matter how kindly he treated her now that he had destroyed her, it made no sense.”
The science fiction portion of the book — the time travel — is really pretty minor. It just happens — there’s no investigation into why or how. It’s Dana’s actions that fascinated me — her immediate reaction to returning to her own time is to prepare for the next time that it happens. When she ends up in the past over and over again, she struggles to blend in, while maintaining the freedom and rights that she’s come to expect as a 20th century woman. Her husband, who travels back with her at one point, is white, and their interactions in both the past and present (and the differences between the two) are very interesting.It’s also a very sad, scary book. As a black “freewoman” (albeit one with no papers), Dana’s life in the past is difficult and dangerous. But she observes the other “true” slaves around here, and sees how they experience even more terrible things. Her relationship with Rufus is turbulent and treacherous — they both need the other, but they’re also both capable of destroying each other and themselves. It’s a very tense, well-written novel.