Uncontrolled time travel, pre-Civil War south and a woman from 1976 called Dana fold together to create a mesmerizing and toxic concoction of social commentary, family and magic. The idea is simple, one that every reader of time travel should know like the back of their hand; Dana, our hero, is pulled out of time. She disappears from her apartment in San Francisco and is thrust onto a full working plantation. If Kindred had been any other basic time travel novel Dana would be there to save the world, to right some wrong and to be the chosen one for a time long past. There would be a mentor to offer protection and to shelter her as she learned to deal with the new world. None of this is the case. There is no mentor to save Dana, no evil to defeat and no grander plan for her. Dana is utterly and completely alone. That fact is what makes Kindred incredible. With no safety net, Dana is forced to make decisions that will see to her survival and very little else. Instead of trying to change the world Dana is forced to ask the question if the past is worth her life and her chance to return to the future. The choices and following consequences are haunting and require an open mind. As Dana continually gets pulled into the past for longer and longer frames of time she develops complex relationships with slaves and plantation owners alike who see the color of her skin first and foremost. Nothing about Kindred is easy. Crisp, clean writing carries emotionally poignant dialogue. Butler sketches the world lightly: she is more concerned with action and dialogue. While more descriptions of the environment would never hurt it does not distract from the story Butler is telling. Butler actively challenges the reader continuously on matters of racism, sexism, and abuse. Characters are faced with choices between the lesser of two evils. Every character Butler writes is in shades of gray and misshaped products of their time. Kindred is a novel that challenges social perception and questions how racism of the past echoes into the future. If you like time travel grounded in reality this book is a must read.
Dana, a black woman, finds herself repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she must make sure that Rufus, the plantation owner's son, survives to father Dana's ancestor.