Thursday, March 03, 2022

Fiction Review: Kindred

For years, I have heard nothing but rave reviews of Kindred by Octavia Butler, and I've wanted to read it. So, when I saw that my local indie bookstore had chosen it for its monthly book group discussion for Black History Month, I signed up. Wow. Just wow. This moving story of a modern black woman who time travels back to a southern plantation in 1815 just blew me away. It's a compelling, gripping, and very powerful story that made for a great discussion.

Dana is a black woman living in California in 1976 with her white husband, Kevin. They are both writers, and Dana works temporary jobs to help make ends meet. On her twenty-sixth birthday, Dana suddenly disappears from their living room while she and Kevin are unpacking boxes from their recent move. She finds herself on the bank of a river in a rural area, surrounded by trees. She sees a child drowning in the river and acts instinctively, jumping in the water and swimming out to save him. She pulls him back to shore, but he's not breathing, so she begins mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She's stunned when his mother arrives on the scene and starts to beat on Dana's back. The boy, Rufus, begins breathing again, but his father arrives and points a gun at Dana. She disappears from the scene and reappears back in her living room, wet and muddy and out of breath. She tells Kevin what happened, and though it's hard to believe, it's impossible to ignore the physical evidence Dana brings back with her: river water, mud, and bruises on her back. Soon, it happens again, and Dana finds out that her first trip was to 1815 and that Rufus lives on a plantation in Maryland. He seems to have the ability to somehow call her to him whenever his life is in danger, which happens far too frequently as he grows older. Each time Dana is pulled back in time, she stays for longer periods; she gets pulled abruptly back to her own time when her own life is threatened. While on the plantation, Dana must live and work with the slaves, and she frequently gets herself into trouble by not remembering to speak and act submissively to Rufus' often-cruel parents. Dana confides her true story to Rufus, who sees her appear and disappear, and though the two become somewhat close, their relationship is always strained as Rufus has been taught that Blacks are lesser people, almost animals. To complicate matters further, Dana's own family history is threatened by what happens on this plantation.

Did I say wow?? Frequent readers of my blog know that I love time travel novels, especially those that include historical fiction, like Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, Blackout, and All Clear. But this historical time travel novel was just so incredibly powerful. We had a lot to discuss in the book group. We all agreed that Dana experiencing slavery on a southern plantation was all the more powerful because she was a modern woman, and the contrast with her modern life made the atrocities of slavery all the more potent. Going back and forth between the two time periods had a powerful effect on Dana--and on Kevin, who also got pulled back with her once. By showing the perspectives of both Black slaves and white people at that time and Rufus' growing conflict between liking and respecting Dana and the perspectives he grew up with, the novel illuminates many aspects of that time period in great depth. Dana faces some impossible choices and makes some very difficult decisions, as she tries to balance between the needs of that time--and the people there she comes to care about--against her own modern life and her family. It's a compelling, powerful portrait of a horrifying time and place in our history, told in a wholly unique way. I want to go back and reread the entire novel; I'm sure I will one day.

NOTE: When you get back to the end of the novel, be sure to go back and re-read the Prologue!

264 pages, Beacon Press

Recorded Books

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Monthly Motif - Girl Power (there is no more fierce female character than Dana!)

Alphabet Soup Challenge - K for Kindred

Diversity Challenge

Literary Escapes Challenge - North Carolina

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, from the Prologue and the beginning of the novel, and/or download it from Audible. It sounds great!


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Or you can order Kindred from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. It's such an interesting idea to have a modern person experience history and not just observe it or read about it. I have heard such good things about this novel.