Is anything really what it seems? What would you do if surprisingly you found yourself in another place and time? Suddenly the lines of demarcation between fantasy and reality, the past and the present are blurred … and you find yourself engrossed in KINDRED by Octativa E. Butler.
This is science-fiction book about time travel and one person’s ability to ensure the future of her family…ensuring that she survives that past to be able to be born in the future is a really interesting storyline! Not that it is a new idea, but the storytelling, the unfolding of the story makes it so compelling. Suddenly and strangely one morning, 26 year-old Edana (Dana) Franklin finds herself in Antebellum Maryland rescuing a baby from drowning. Little did Dana, a young African-American woman, know on that fateful day that the reason she travelled back in time was to “ensure the survival of one accident-prone small boy.” Who knew that the small boy she would save would turn out to be her Caucasian great-grandfather, Rufus Weylin.
Travel back in time? Fascinating, but back to slavery? The storyline builds slowly and the characters are written with such believability that you may think you know one thing for sure…or do you? Once you get used to the back and forth between centuries flow of her writing style the book really takes off. KINDRED weaves into the pages many twists, plots and parallels. For example, it is set in Maryland, both antebellum and modern-day. In 20th century Dana is newly married to Kevin, her Caucasian husband, her equal. Yet when she transports as a slave, she has a white master (her great-great-grandfather) and is seen as unequal and inferior.
In the beginning her “time travel episodes” last for about 2-3 minutes, but in Dana’s mind it seems like hours. As the story progresses the travels become longer and more violent. All the while, her mindset and behaviors are of a modern-day Dana. Not surprisingly, she is held in suspicion by many slaves because she “talks white” and doesn’t sound like a “regular” black slave, she is “an unpredictable new slave. It was dangerous to educate slaves, they warned…Education made blacks dissatisfied with slavery. It spoiled them for field work.”
Ms. Butler does not sugar coat the brutality and indignities of slavery and makes sure that the readers understand that. Yet there is a deeper thread of relationship that is discovered with the strength, fear, courage and survival that she describes through the various characters. For example, because of Dana’s presence and actions in the past she alters the trajectory of her family’s existence and future.
Dana befriends one slave, Alice, whom she eventually realizes is her great-grandmother. Their friendship and relationship is of a sisterly bond. Interesting point to note is that most books on time travel involve one person. Ms. Butler includes Dana’s husband, Kevin in some of her time travels. He gets a rude, in-your-face, reality of the past. He sees what Dana has been telling him about her experiences and has to adjust to his role as a white man pretending that they are not married just to survive and stay alive.
THOUGHTS for your SOUL:
- “Time damages as well as heals, and genuine historical understanding of human crimes is never easy and always achieved at the price of suffering.”
- “You don’t have to beat people to treat them badly.”
KINDRED is very well-written, with a storyline that transcends color, ethnicity and gender. It is not your typical slave narrative because it not only answers but provides a perspective to the question…If you have the opportunity to play a part in your family lineage would you do it? The characters are fully developed and believable. You find yourself pulling for the underdog, Dana, and realize with every turn of the page you are on this journey with her. After you read the last page you understand why it is so important for Dana to succeed and why life, choices, circumstances and consequences had to play out the way it does. There is a reason why this book has over 450,000 copies in print. As Samuel Johnson says, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”
Source: Permission granted from RandomHouse Publishing.