“But then, slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships.”

Books on Tap met Thursday, October 6, at Champion Brewing Company to discuss Kindred by Octavia Butler. For all but two of our members, who were already loyal fans, this was our first time reading Octavia Butler. For a long time, she stood as a class of one as a black, female, science-fiction writer. Butler gained many new fans this month! We were so impressed, we added Parable of the Sower (also by Butler) to our book club que. Be sure to join us February 2, 2023, to discuss. 

One of my favorite conversation points was discussing the word “kindred.” Dana, our main character, is married to Kevin – an older man and of a different race. They live in the present-day 1970s – except for when Dana (and sometimes Kevin, too) is violently pulled into the past. Suddenly set down in the 1800s, Dana is immediately thrust into disaster each time, as she saves a little boy named Rufus. After ensuring Rufus’ safety, she must navigate life on a plantation that is eerily connected to her future. 

Dana describes first meeting Kevin like this: “he was like me, a kindred spirit, crazy enough to keep trying.” The book asks readers to reflect on what responsibilities we have towards our biological families as well as our “found families” (a newly popular concept). We also must ask: what do we do when we don’t have the ability (physically or mentally) to do what we “need” to do for our families? There is friction between our “kindred” and our “kin.” 

As we unpacked Kevin’s decision-making while stuck on the plantation, we began to question his loyalty to Dana. We will never know if these two stay together after the novel ends, but we did decide amongst ourselves that if anything broke them up, it would not be their age difference – it would be because of the remarkably different ways they experience the world (present-day 1970s and plantation life). If they break up at any point, aren’t they still “kindred spirits”? It would be interesting to see a sequel in which Dana is pulled not to the past, but a parallel present – saving Kevin (kindred) rather than Rufus (kin). 

We also see friction between kindred and kin as Dana’s relationship with Alice grows and changes. In a way, they are kindred. They are both strong black females, with a progressive understanding of independence. But as Alice and Rufus’ relationship becomes abusive, Dana has to make difficult choices to protect her kin. 

So many amazing choices made by Octavia Butler to pack a lot into this novel. For example, setting the plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland was a thoughtful choice because readers can make connections between Dana and Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. It’s also not the “deep south,” and the experience of being “borderline” was important throughout the novel – slaves had ample fear of being “sold south” and Dana, who was very unconventional according to plantation standards, was likely more accepted because of their proximity to the north. 

Speaking of Dana, one final point of interest was her characteristics. Gender and race and “otherness” are always explored head-on in Butler’s works, and this was no different. Dana was intentionally made to be less feminine, with a short haircut and dressing in pants. But her gender is still a defining point of her existence. For Rufus, she was, in time, nurturing, sexually alluring, and able to be controlled – because she was female. We also noted that her relative ease in creating community and her comfort in asking for help might have been in part because of the gendered expectations she had grown up with. 

Whether you read the traditional novel, or graphic novel, or watch the upcoming series, we imagine you’ll become an Octavia Butler fan, too – if you aren’t already! 

Other books:

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Bulter

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien 

Upcoming titles: 

November 3rd Carson McCullers – The Member of the Wedding

December 1st: Matthew Haig – The Midnight Library

January 5th: Chris Bohjalian – The Lioness

February 2nd: Octavia Butler – The Parable of the Sower

March 2: SAME PAGE BOOK TO BE DETERMINED

April 6: Will Harlan – Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight For Cumberland Island

May 4: Shelby Van Pelt – Remarkably Bright Creatures: A Novel

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