Just finished reading KINDRED, by Octavia Butler. This is ostensibly, the tale of a time-traveler from the 20th century, who is whisked back to the 19th. The traveler is an African-American woman in 1976. She is transported to 1819 Maryland, where her duty appears to be to save the life of a white child from drowning. She has no control over her traveling and therefore can be taken or returned at any time. The major conflict in this tale for anyone with even a passing knowledge of American History is the fact that the 19th century was a time of slavery and the slave trade. The child the young woman saves-first time from drowning and on subsequent occasions, from fire, from beatings, from alcohol poisoning and from disease, is her several times great ancestor. Her saving him is in preparation for him to forcibly impregnate her black female ancestor… what a connundrum.
Dana, the protagonist, is shocked on many levels, chiefly that she has no control over her movement. Rufus, her ancestor, is the son of the slave owner of a modest plantation in Maryland and a real man of the times. Each time she returns to the past (this is accomplished by Rufus’ peril) it is shocking and she has no idea of the time she will spend there. This is also complicated by the fact that she is married and her husband is a white man, who at one point makes the journey with her. She is well-educated and this is apparent by her speech and carriage as she is a free woman put into bound circumstances and all the explanations that must be made
… something to think about.
This book is really interesting and important, I think, because it explores the issues of slavery and freedom in new ways. Most modern people, especially historians, screenwriters and the like, think they have a handle on this “peculiarly American incarnation of the institution of bartering and selling of human beings. This book postulates that we haven’t a clue. The day to day life of a person trying to navigate while living in the fantasy of a society in which one group is inherently superior to another is fraught with challenges as yet unexamined. How do you rationalize to yourself what you will do or how important your life is when you or your children can be sold at any time for the whim of another?
This book was recommended to me many years ago, but I am not that much of a science fiction reader. I think of it(Science Fiction) as the realm of white men(Isaac Assimov and Ray Bradbury) and for most of its existence, it has been. Octavia Butler was one of the first black women to really master this genre, though this book, in her words, is more of a grim fantasy. There is no scientific explanation for the time travel. He calls and she comes-in this way she is a slave to his desires, exactly as her ancestors were.