Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on July 4, 2018
First, I am not a big fan of science fiction. For a reading challenge, I was tasked with reading a work of science fiction by an author of color or with a main character of color. Two birds, one book with Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Plus, it gives me a reason to read a prolific writer who I have been ignoring. Extra bonus, I would consider this Sci Fi light. There are no aliens, no robots, and no weird machines. Only time travel with no devices required.
The novel is set in 1976 in California. African American Dana is newly married to white guy Will. They are both writers, he more successful. They move into a new home. Dana feels dizzy and poof—there she is in antebellum Maryland saving a white boy named Rufus from drowning. Task accomplished and she returns home, finding that she was gone for only a few seconds in 1979 but for a longer spell in the 1800’s. Rufus is the young son of a plantation and slave owner and is also a distant relation to Dana. Whenever he is in danger (which is often) she is somehow summoned to save him. Her visits to the south last for longer periods of time and sometimes her husband Will accompanies her. Dana believes she must continue to save Rufus otherwise he will not be alive to father a child with a slave; that child being one of Dana’s ancestors. No Rufus, no Dana. Dana obviously does not fit in and passes herself off as a free black from the north, though Will is her “master” and lover. On the plantation she is often treated as a slave because there is nothing more threatening to slave owners than an educated black woman. She herself is often in danger and suffers atrocities along with the other slaves.
This was a quick read and an interesting story, but I did not love it. I’m not a fan of time travel in novels, but that was a very minor part of the story. It was fairly easily accepted by all involved, including those on the plantation. Most of the book takes place on the plantation and these are the most compelling sections. That said, I don’t think that those scenes were much different than any other book set in that period. Toni Morrison and Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything) are much better writers. Also, some of the interesting dynamics were not explored in enough depth for me. Dana’s love/hate relationship with Rufus, her relationship with her white husband both in current and past times, and her fear that her husband would be altered by his exposure to conventions in the early 1800’s. In fairness, this book was written in 1979 and the author may have gone as far as one could go with those issues. This book is 3.5 stars for me. I am unlikely to read another of Ms. Butler’s books.