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Octavia E. Butler - Kindred (1979)

This book is worthy of a proper review. I have time for some brief notes.

My copy of Kindred is the Pocket Books paperback, published in the US in 1981. It was 'as new' before I read it this week, and I have read it carefully so it is still 'fine', as paperbacks thirty-five years old go.

The cover is not particularly compelling, but there is a long quote from Harlan Ellison on the back, and the front has this blurb:
"The stunning novel of a modern woman drawn into the cruel sensual world of the Antebellum South - "An important novel...its power is hypnotic!" - Harlan Ellison.

Kindred stands up to time and memory. That's rare.

Nearly four decades after publication, I did not stumble in reading it: no obsolete language, no unexamined assumptions, no stock backdrops distracting me from the story.

Rereading a remembered book - I knew the beginning, and somewhat of the middle, and the end - it matched my memories, and nevertheless felt as fresh and shocking as if it were brand new.

And more than either of these, I found that reading it was a physical act: whenever I put the book down I found myself aroused, with shallow breath and racing heart. And that isn't because the story takes place in "the cruel, sensual world of the Antebellum South"; that's because Butler's unemphatic prose brings the reader calmly and surely into sympathy with the narrator, and you fear for her and her friends as you would fear for yourself and your friends.

* * *

Kindred was published in 1979. It must be unusual to read, or reread, it now without at least some knowledge of Butler's literary career in mind. I am amazed and astonished that this can be true for me and not destroy its power. I hope that is true for others coming to it for the first time.

Those of us who came to it around 1979 might have read Mandingo (1957) by Kyle Onstott, or The Foxes of Harrow (1946) by Frank Yerby (I had read both, although I don't think I realised at the time that Yerby is black), or Gone With the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell (which I had not read; I'm relying on other's views for this particular book). Kindred stands as a sharp corrective to those fantasies of male and slave-owning power.

We might have read Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1965) by H. Beam Piper or Lest Darkness Fall (1939) by L. Sprague de Camp. Kindred stands as a sharp corrective to those (male) fantasies of the use of education and rational mind to survive and take power in pre-Enlightenment societies.

I wrote about my memories of expectations for Kindred before I read it: http://coth.livejournal.com/#asset-coth-338325. They stand.

Edit: Brian tells me that Kindred was not published in the UK until 1988 when it was published by The Women's Press. I wonder why Sphere and/or Sidgwick & Jackson did not pick it up when they published the Patternmaster books before and after this?


Caroline M

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