By Heather A.
5 out of 5 stars ★★★★★
Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
If your emotions need to be wrecked, I highly recommend this novel. Despite being published in 1979, Kindred reminds all readers that time travel is horrible to people of color. When Dana travels back in time to 1819 she’s immediately treated as a slave, even though she repeats that she is free (but no papers to prove it) and she continues to have her own agency.
What draws Dana to Rufus and what takes Dana back to her own time is challenging in an of itself, she has to save someone who repeatedly invents reasons why he is not worth saving. Meanwhile, she has to contend with her own death (or her life being threatened) in order to return to her time in 1976. The plot becomes more complicated the longer she stays in the past, when she accidentally leaves her white husband in the past, and how she ultimately has to break the connection with Rufus.
Slavery was a horrible period of history, as we are consistently reminded throughout the novel. Dana tries to help as many people on the plantation as she can, but it’s usually to the detriment of those she helps. For example, one man looked at Dana with romantic interest and then he was sold by Rufus.
The character of Rufus as the villain is frustrating because he could be good. He could be worth saving (Dana’s influence on him as a child was substantial), but he is too caught up with societal and his father’s expectations to make morally sound decisions. Besides those reasons, he also has violent tendencies when he doesn’t get what he wants. This is repeatedly exemplified when it comes to his relationship with a slave named Alice.
Dana is thrown into these extenuating circumstances, but she is able to persevere and make difficult choices. The narrative is compelling and absorbing. Reading something like this always begs the question, what would you do if you went back in time? Could you help or change history if your life was threatened? Butler consistently challenges readers and I look forward to reading her other novels.