Thursday, March 30, 2006

1/8th review of Kindred

Perhaps that's the disadvantage of reading Amazon reviews before listening to a book. Through the first tape, Dana has saved Rufus's life twice - drowning & fire - and stuck up a bit of a friendship with him, even convincing him to call her "Black woman" instead of nigger. I might have thought Dana was brought back to teach enlightenment to whites of that era, but reading the description below gives away almost the entire plot of the novel.

Kindred utilizes the devices of science fiction in order to answer the question "how could anybody be a slave?" A woman from the twentieth century, Dana is repeatedly brought back in time by her slave-owning ancestor Rufus when his life is endangered. She chooses to save him, knowing that because of her actions a free-born black woman will eventually become his slave and her own grandmother. When forced to live the life of a slave, Dana realizes she is not as strong as her ancestors. Unable to will herself back to her own time and unable to tolerate the institution of slavery, she attempts to run away and is caught within a few hours. Her illiterate ancestor Alice succeeds in eluding capture for four days even though "She knew only the area she'd been born and raised in, and she couldn't read a map." Alice is captured, beaten, and sold as a slave to Rufus. As Dana is sent back and forth through time, she continues to save Rufus's life, attempting during each visit to care for Alice, even as she is encouraging Alice to allow Rufus to rape her and thus ensure Dana's own birth. As a twentieth-century African-American woman trying to endure the brutalities of nineteenth-century slavery, Dana answers the question, "See how easily slaves are made?" For Dana, to choose to preserve an institution, to save a life, and nurture victimization is to choose to survive.

I had never heard of Octavia Butler until she died, when the obituaries all mentioned how rare black female science fiction writer are. Had never struck me what a white boy domain sci-fi is until that moment. Thinking back, the only female sci-fi authour that I've read is Ursula K. LeGuin, who wrote the fine "what if" novel Lathe of Heaven. However, even though both novels use the "what if" we tinker with the fabric of time motif, Kindred did not bring to mind LeGuin, but rather The Butterfly Effect during Dana's first saving of her ancestor's life.

Now that Dana is remaining in the past for an extended period, the reality of black existence in Maryland in 1815 is taking hold. Even free blacks had precarious existences living in "border" states in the ante bellum era, so chaos theory doesn't really apply to the rest of the novel.

Will be curious if any explanation of how Dana is transported through time/space is given - obviously every time Rufus's life is in danger he can call her back across a continent and 1½ centuries.

Tape 2 tomorrow....

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