This month’s #ReadWomenSF book was my very first foray into the works of Octavia E. Butler. Recently re-released with BEAUTIFUL new cover art by Yeti Lambregts, Kindred is a time-travelling historical novel set between 1970s California and pre-civil war Maryland. With this new edition, I’m sincerely hoping this book finds lots of new readers because, honestly, I have no clue how Butler has passed me by for so many years. She’s SUCH a great writer. And, more importantly, she’s an important one.
Kindred discusses and dissects many different subjects: slavery, oppression, class, race, rape, toxic love, interracial love, sisterly love, fate, and it’s all done with such a deft, wisely touch you soak it all in without once being thrown from the story. Yes, there are harrowing scenes. Yes, there are moments when you feel helpless rage at the more troubling issues depicted within the pages. But never do you feel it’s done for sensationalist reasons. If anything, the setting and the story are so genuinely authentic this could be a true historical retelling of a slave’s life in 19th Century America – and it’s all the more devastating for it. Although, it was interesting to hear one member of our #ReadWomenSF group say that apparently Butler dialled back some of the violence so as to not upset readers.
For me, though, what Butler does best is show the complexities of the time period and the people in it. No one is fully good, and no one is fully evil. There is moral ambiguity in many of the characters’ actions (and inactions), and yet Butler compels the reader to keep looking, keep reading, don’t turn away. And though that might make for an uncomfortable read at times, it also makes for an essential one. Highly recommended from everyone who read it for this month’s book.