Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
For the longest time, I was somehow erroneously convinced that this book was about vampires. There’s nothing remotely factual about that. I never thought to research it or check and see what it actually was about. It’s like thinking Moby Dick is about a DJ who does porn. Someone suggested that there was a television series called Kindred about vampires a while back. So maybe that’s where I got it from.
Suffice it to say, Kindred was an unexpected surprise. It’s more of a cross between Twelve Years a Slave and The Time Traveler’s Wife. Inexplicably, Dana, a black woman living in Pasadena in the 1970’s disappears and finds herself back in Maryland in 1815. She’s drawn to Rufus, a red-headed slave-owner’s son, who she finds herself rescuing every time she travels back. Rufus turns out to have fathered a child with Alice, a freed slave, and that child is Dana’s great-several-times-over-grandmother. So Dana is saving her own life by protecting Rufus.
The story totally fucking crushes it as it studies race relations is a fascinating way. When transported back to 1815, Dana has no rights. She’s no better than the other slaves. Even saving lives and being this mysteriously magically transported figure, she’s afforded less than respect. Her husband Kevin, witness to these mystical transports, actually ends up going back with her on one of the trips. Kevin is a white man, and this adds yet another whole dynamic to the story.
Kindred is used as summer-reading in many high-schools. It’s gruesome and captivating. if slightly after-school special in its presentation of racism. I mean, it knows that it’s going to be an important story and used instructively. Butler is one of the first black female science fiction writers. And Kindred isn’t even considered as science-y as some of her other fiction.
But goddamn, no idea why I thought this was about vampires. Instead, it’s just this really wonderfully constructive narrative that touches on so many different topics and is still fully relatable today.