Kindred by Octavia Butler

There are certain movies, songs, and television shows that are so ingrained in our culture we just assume everyone is familiar. Do you know one person, young or old, who isn’t familiar with “Thriller?”

The Titanic?

Probably not.

When I talk to certain people, I say Martin without explanation. I just assume they know.

As a reader and proclaimed lover of science fiction and Black female authors, folks assume I’m familiar with Octavia Butler. Go a step further, and they assume I’m familiar with most of her work.

How could I claim to love the genre and not know one of the few Black women Sci-fi authors? The reality was I did know who Octavia Butler was. I even had her letter to herself saved in my phone for inspiration. All of that said, I had never read any of her work.

The fact slightly embarrassed me. She was always on my list, but I somehow just never got around to it.

Last month I finally got my Los Angeles library card, linked it with my Kindle, and had the world of books at my fingertips again. I looked up Octavia Butler, and it seemed only right to start with Kindred.

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Synopsis (Goodreads)

Kindred has become a cornerstone of Black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity.

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976, California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life.

During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given…

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What I Enjoyed

The book sucks you in quickly. We jumped right into it. There wasn’t all the world-building that you typically find in science fiction. It felt straight to the point, and I liked that.

Quite a few science fiction books have lost me as the author gets bogged down in the most minute details of the created universe.

The characters were nuanced. There is no getting around the atrocities of slavery, though many have tried through the romanticization of plantation life. However, Butler does a skilled job of making Dana, the main character, reflective, empathetic, and conflicted even by her oppressors.

When I read the premise of the story, I thought the stance and feelings of the characters would be straightforward. The backward past meets the righteous, angry reckoning of someone from the future. It wasn’t that simple. Nothing ever is.

Final Thoughts

It is intimidating to review a beloved classic. Sometimes it’s even intimidating to read them. I used to feel put off reading classics, worried that if I didn’t experience what the masses experienced, what does that suggest about my taste?

I’ve learned that it’s all about balance: one day, a trashy thriller; the next, a story by one of the greats.

Expectations were high, and they were met. I enjoyed Kindred. A few times, I almost quit.

Not because of the writing but because I, as I’ve expressed many times, am tired of encountering Black pain and trauma in my escapism. After I pushed past my initial discomfort, I felt like I needed to know how the story ended.

That’s always the marker of good storytelling to me when I am trading precious sleep, as a mother of two, to figure out what happens next. If you claim to love Sci-Fi without a doubt Kindred needs to be on your TBR list.




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