Kindred by Octavia E. Butler follows Dana, a black novelist who lives in California, 1978, and is unwillingly transported back to a pre-Civil War Maryland Plantation.
This brief synopsis is already probably enough to make you squirm. I was unsure what I was in for going into this, but I’m glad I read it. The brutality isn’t the focus, so don’t let a dislike of violent writing turn you away from this one. Although there is violence, it is not drawn out or overdone. The true horror of this story is the casual acceptance by everyone–including the victims–of what went on in this time.
On Dana’s first trip into the past, she saves a small white boy from drowning, and over several trips spanning many years, she becomes friends with the man as he grows up. But even as friends, he still treats her as his property, as something beneath him. The book does a great job of showing the humanity of the slave-owners, how they can convince themselves they feel compassion and even love for their slaves, but still treat them in disgusting, dehumanizing ways. And how a slave could tell themselves ‘he’s not so bad’ even as their master beats them and sells their children away.
Because people will accept anything, eventually, if everyone around them is accepting it too.
It is an amazing human power to be able to believe two contradicting realities at once. To believe you love someone, while believing they are your property. To believe someone is an inhuman monster, while at the same time feeling the need to forgive them.
Slavery is a subject that I, being white, have the luxury to rarely think about. Reading this book made me feel embarrassed for my country, that such a clearly wrong and disgusting thing could go on for so long in a so called ‘civilized’ and ‘advanced’ world. And it made me feel worried for what could come in our future. If we were willing to accept such a thing for so long, what else might we accept?