On the surface, "Kindred" by Octavia E. Butler is a fantasy thriller, but it's so much more than that. It's an examination of gender, power struggles, race, history and socioeconomic divides. This book is also a memoir -- Dana resembles young Octavia. Both Dana and Octavia's fathers died before they knew him, both worked in menial jobs and both grew up in Southern California. As usual, Butler creates a strong, yet sensitive heroine that readers can root for. Dana is a modern day intellectual black woman who is a writer and she is married to another writer, who happens to be white. On her 26th birthday, she time travels back to 1815 to save Rufus, her white ancestor from drowning. As the story progresses, she returns to this era for over a year in her time, but over the span of 21 years in their time. In every visit she faces more danger and increasing violence. Butler doesn't lecture the reader about the psychological effects of slavery on both blacks and whites, but we discover how slavery leaves mental/physical scars on master and slave. She also examines through her first person narrative and characters how black women had to negotiate a space in this culture in order to survive. All of her characters are complicated and I think this is one of Butler's strengths in all of her fiction. Her plot is tight and suspenseful and she doesn't over foreshadow -- she gives just enough dread for you not to stop reading. The only quibble I had with the book was that there was too much unattributed dialogue between Dana and her husband Kevin at the beginning of the book. We didn't see these characters talk or experience their actions -- it was just straight expository dialogue. However, the writing got a lot stronger twenty-five pages later. Butler's short, imagistic descriptions and Dana's thoughts made me quickly forget about the shaky beginning. I also loved the ending which I won't give away. After you've read this book check out "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents."
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