Kindred by Octavtia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler is one of very few African-American women who began writing science fiction in the 1970s. This is her first novel. I enjoyed it, but I think it’s not quite as good as The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, her later futuristic dystopian novels.
Kindred is about an African-American woman from the 1970s who is abruptly and suddenly transported to 1819 Maryland. The reasons for this time travel are never quite clear. To me, this seemed somewhat clumsy on Butler’s part, but the novel’s focus is less on the transport itself than on what Dana learns while she is in the antebellum South. She saves the life of a plantation owner’s son and becomes ensconced in that family. The most interesting parts of the book are the explorations of her fraught relationship with the boy whose life she saved as he grows and takes responsibility for his father’s plantation and slaves. Her role in the past is complicated by the fact that she knows this boy is one of her own ancestors, through a child he fathers with a slave woman. Dana also gets to know many of the slaves, and the internal politics of their society are fascinating. There are some brutally violent scenes, of course. It’s a revealing exploration of the twisted psychology of slavery.