Tuesday 24 June 2014

Kindred - Octavia E.Butler

Having just finished this book I am left feeling rather conflicted. I really wanted to love it. I wanted it to be perfect, and now that I've finished it and, in my opinion, found it to be pretty flawed I am feeling bad. This may well be good old 'white liberal guilt' kicking in but there it is.
The concept sounded great, a contemporary (the book is set in 1976 and was first published in 1979) black woman, married to a white man in modern California is suddenly transported back through time and space to Antebellum Maryland, a slave state. Here she has to face the myriad dangers of being seen as a probable slave, only hoping that she will be able to get home to her own time. Unfortunately it didn't stand up as well as I had hoped it would. The writing seemed to be aimed at a young teen market, and if it wasn't for the frequent references to rape I would even go so far as to suggest it as suitable for mature pre-teens. There was little sophistication to the story, with no attempt at explaining why Dana should be drawn back into the past time after time beyond it being made clear that this happened to her when one of her 1819 ancestor's was in danger. No explanation was given about why she should be so totally linked to this particular individual, there were moments when other ancestors were in danger to a greater or lesser extent, and yet the bond between Dana and Rufus was the one that counted. The sections when Dana found herself stuck in the past were often heart felt and moving, but did feel slightly cliched at times, character development was minimal in most instances; with the few characters who were given stronger back stories still feeling rather stereotypical. Again this gave the effect that the book was aimed at the top end of the 9-12 market rather than the adult readers that it will be given. For the most part This could be a fabulous way to introduce pre and young teens to the themes and issues surrounding the slave trade and the civil rights movement. The setting is far enough removed from the period of the civil war to avoid the discussions about the morality of war itself, allowing the issue of slavery to be given the reader's full focus. The writing contains several instructive passages where prominent individuals are mentioned, as well as providing a well written section set in the contemporary world of 1976 showing that prejudice didn't simply disappear with the abolition of slavery, however I think the repeated discussions of rape gear this towards an older readership which is potentially a shame.
Having criticised the book, and despite a few moments where I seriously considered giving up and reading something a little more adult in style, this did manage to keep me reading until the end. I am sure for young teens this is a fantastic and interesting way to look at American history.

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