"I never realised how easily people could be trained to accept slavery."
Dana is moving into a new apartment with her husband when she starts to feel dizzy and nauseous. The next thing she knows, she is in nineteenth-century Maryland, rescuing a white boy who turns out to be her ancestor, as well as the son of a slave-owner. Although her visit to the past is brief, Dana finds herself called back more often and for longer, and with each trip the danger intensifies. For nineteenth century Maryland isn't a safe place for a black woman, especially one used to modern life. But as Dana spends more time in the past, she feels herself changing as the reality of slavery wears her down, threatening the life she has built in the present.
I was expecting Kindred to be very good, as I've seen many positive reviews of it and know it to be highly regarded, but it went well beyond my expectations. Kindred isn't just a good book, it's a truly excellent and thought provoking one. Butler takes the simple premise of a black woman going back to the slavery era and fleshes her out by adding all of these extra dimensions and complications. Dana has a white husband, and her ancestor is white. Her relationship with Rufus, her ancestor, is complex, as she deplores the way slaves are treated on his property, but can't help but have a bond with him. She finds her views changing with the reality of life for slaves, at one point advising others to keep their heads down, to not fight, despite this going against everything she believes in. The fact that Kevin, her husband, also goes back in time at one point was also an interesting plot device, and one allowed their relationship to be explored fully.
What I loved most of all about Kindred is that Butler doesn't shy away from any of these complications. Of course slavery was wrong, but Butler really explores what it might have been like at the time, how reality and the choices of life were never simple for slaves. We see why slaves might choose to be raped rather than run away, we witness their horrific punishments, and to a certain extent we get to see a modern woman conditioned to accept slavery through her experience in the society. Rufus remains morally ambiguous, treating different slaves in different ways and being a realistic product of his time. It would have been easy for Butler to demonise him, but she didn't. Reading Kindred really made me think and reminded me that no issue is simple. Slavery is rightly shown to be horrific, but gritty and complicated too.
As well as being thought provoking, Kindred is also a gripping read, with a fast paced plot that escalates quickly and builds up tension throughout. I read it in just two days, which is unheard of at the moment! It's a book I'd recommend to anyone, whether you are interested in sci-fi/time travel or not. And I can't wait to pick up more of Butler's books in the future.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: In this edition, March 2014
Score: 5 out of 5