|Butler's Kindred, published 1979.|
This week, I read Butler's novel Kindred, which I think is a masterpiece. The central character and narrator of the novel is a Black woman living in LA in 1976. She uncontrollably travels back in time to a Maryland plantation where her ancestors, both white and black, lived in the early 19th century.
Butler's character, being a Black, is of course treated as a slave by the plantation owners. The slaves, the few free Blacks, and the white masters who live there are obviously puzzled by this anomalous person, who wears trousers, speaks like a white person, knows how to read, understands more about disease than the local doctor, and has highly non-conforming ideas about slavery.
The novel has a suspense-filled plot. What's more important is that the modern consciousness of the narrator enables her to see exactly what was demeaning, inhuman, horrendous, and appalling about the pre-Civil War South. She experiences living as a slave simultaneously from the perspective of a well-educated 20th century person AND from the point of view of one of the 19th century victims. She is brutally beaten, physically and psychologically threatened, and made to suffer with her fellow slaves -- her 20th century consciousness can't protect her from violence. She lives through the horror of seeing people she has learned to know and love tortured, to witness loved-ones sold away from their homes and families, and to share the death and despair of the most abused of her friends. The clarity of this narrative is almost unbearable.
Through the double perspective of the time-traveler, the novel also shows how the institution of slavery corrupted and destroyed the souls of white folks, turning them into monsters. The historic details of the life of both slaves and masters is fascinating, and I believe is very well-researched and accurate. I think it's one of the best books about slavery in the American South that I have ever read.
Review © 2020 by mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.
If you read this elsewhere it's been pirated.