Today we met at the Morris County Library to discuss the sci-fi classic Kindred by Octavia Butler. We had several new Book Clubbers, and it was a really fascinating hour and a half. We started by talking about why Butler chose to take a modern (well, modern in the 1970s) woman and transport her back to the Antebellum south, instead of just writing a more straightforward slave narrative. Some people didn’t feel like that worked for them; they didn’t like the time travel because it wasn’t realistic. Once we discovered how she came up with the idea of this novel, however, most of the book club members appreciated her reasoning, even if they still didn’t necessarily think it worked. As she stated in an interview:
I wanted to take a character, when I did Kindred, back in time to some of the things our ancestors had to go through, and see if that character survived so very well with the knowledge of the present in her head.
We talked about what it meant that Dana had married a white man, which even in 1979 (when this book was published) was considered rare. We decided it was in part to have a sympathetic white character, but it also served a plot purpose. Because he went back in time with her, he was accepted as her “master” and they were more free to do certain things that she wouldn’t have been able to do on her own.
Another point of discussion was the correlation between Dana’s job as a temp (which she referred to as “a slave market”) and the actual slaves on the plantation she travels back in time to meet.
Obviously there was a lot of discussion about current race relations today versus the 1970s of Dana’s time period, and also versus the 1800s of Rufus’s plantation. We also compared this book to movies and books such as 12 Years a Slave, The Invention of Wings, and Flight of the Sparrow.
One of the aspects of the novel that we had mixed feelings about is Dana losing her arm in her final return to her present. It seemed like a number of people didn’t find that a particularly satisfying resolution, particularly because it was stuck in a wall upon her return. Some mentioned they would have preferred her arm to have been cut off previous to her return. Butler herself commented that she couldn’t let Dana come back “whole,” because “Antebellum slavery didn’t leave people quite whole.”
Overall, most of us really appreciated reading this book (though we didn’t always enjoy reading it). Several people gave it a 4 our of 5 stars, though there were a few lower scores.