A review by rlgreen91
Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler

challenging dark emotional reflective sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


 This was a book that I wrestled with. Each time I picked it up, I had this feeling of wanting to and actually enjoying it that warred with this feeling of how heavy the truths it laid bare are.

I'm sure there are tons of literature out there about this novel and the idea of power, and what it means to have power over another person, and how that intersects with the racial hierarchies of the U.S. I'm also sure that there is a lot of literature about this novel and what it means to love someone, and how that works or doesn't in terms of power dynamics. I think the parallel Butler drew between Rufus and Kevin was an insightful critique of how our view of marriage is subject to the same feelings of love as possession and ownership, regardless of whether the characters believe they are equal.

I do want to say that I think this novel, along with Toni Morrison's A Mercy, does a great job of showing how a person is influenced by their culture, and that since a society is set up to incentivize certain behaviors, how difficult it is to get a single person to act in a different way. Rufus Weylin, like Morrison's Jacob Vaark, is a man of his time, who reconciles himself to the practices of his time, even if there's some initial resistance. But, we also see them take the occasional action that goes outside of what the society and culture of the time dictate. That doesn't necessarily mean that he should be absolved of his cruel actions - and is beside the point. Similarly, Weylin's departure from how other slaveowners act, including his own father, isn't enough on its own to dismantle the whole system of slavery. But those departures make a difference in someone's life - notably Hagar's, and Dana's, although for good or bad it's hard to say. 

One other thing I liked about this novel was a bit of truth-telling, when Dana forced Rufus to confront that he was responsible for what happened to Alice. It reminds me of Butler's short story "Bloodchild", when Gan is honest about what it would mean to volunteer his sister for what has up to that point been his destiny. I noted this in my review of that collection, but it's refreshing to see characters be honest with themselves about what the choices they make say about what and who they value. It's something I wish we'd engage in more in real life, honestly, so I'll always appreciate a moment like that in a novel.

Overall, this was a solid 4.5 stars. On to the Parables. 

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