Going into a novel identified within the sci-fi genre written in the 1970s, I didn’t have any expectations since it’s not my typical kind of read. The last sci-fi I had to struggle my way through was Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” and I still feel traumatised by it to this day. To my surprise, I found “Kindred” to be really enjoyable and it’s a book that ages well, being just as on point today, as it was about 50 years ago. Maybe because it’s not really justified that it got pushed into sci-fi, since the only component in that direction is the fact that it’s about time travels. It reminded me of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” which I adored back when I read it in 2011. So if you might have read and enjoyed that one, you might like “Kindred” too :)
The main character travels back to the days of slavery of her ancestors in the United States and gets to live through all the critical experiences concerning race, class and male dominance. The book is driven by the plot and dialogues and most importantly, it starts in an unexpected and shocking way that makes you want to read on & find out what happened in the end:
“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm. And I lost about a year of my life and much of the comfort and security I had not valued until I was gone.” (p. 1)
So far there were only positive remarks, why the 3 out of 5 star rating then? In the end, the style being as simple as it can get, didn’t impress me enough – it was too simple for my own taste. Before reading this book, I didn’t realise that something like “too much dialogue” can exist, but this is exactly the case here. I was longing to find out more about the inner worlds of the characters, rather than only being fed the straightforward things that they said, instead of what they thought. I personally am a fan of books that fulfil your voyeuristic desires that can’t be met in real life, as in getting to know what goes on in the heads of the characters. Another point of criticism was the fact that some situations were explained too much, the writer underestimating his readers’ comprehension. I guess the descriptions were often too blunt for me and lacking some subtlety, which is illustrated within the next two quotes:
“I didn’t go after him when I left his office. I didn’t know what to do to help him, and I didn’t want to look at him and see things that reminded me of Weylin. But because I went to the bedroom, I found him.” (p. 215)
” ‘You and Rufus had some trouble when you saw him last.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Having Rufus try to shoot me had been troublesome.” (p. 223)
I felt like this book could be more appealing to younger teenage readers, showing the development of the good and the bad in people, as well as illustrating the narrative of slavery in a captivating time travel story.
“Then, somehow, I got caught up in one of Kevin’s World War II books – a book of excerpts from the recollections of concentration camp survivors. Stories of beatings, starvation, filth, disease, torture, every possible degradation. As though the Germans had been trying to do in only a few years what the Americans had worked at for nearly two hundred.
[…] Like the Nazis, ante bellum whites had known quite a bit about torture – quite a bit more than I ever wanted to learn.” (p. 126)
To wrap it up, a 3 out of 5 star book is still an enjoyable one in my point of view. I have been glad to come across Octavia E. Butler’s writing through this novel and I’m curious to give some of her other books a try.
Edition: ISBN 978-1-4722-5822-9
Headline Publishing 2018