Mar. 9th, 2010

starlady: the OTW logo with text "fandom is my fandom" (fandom^2)

9-15 March 2010 OTW Membership Drive

There will be more about this from me before the end, but I wanted to post this now. Donations make the OTW and its projects like the Archive of Our Own possible (that's right, fan contributions paid for the servers that the fans own). So please do consider donating, if you can!
starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Butler, Octavia. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003. [1978]

I read this for [ profile] calico_reaction's February book club; I'm only…nine days late. In my defense, I can only say that it's as harrowing as it is excellent. ETA:[ profile] calico_reaction's review is here. /eta

The plot of Kindred is both simple and (I'd wager) familiar to many readers of sff: In 1976, black woman Dana Franklin is repeatedly brought back in time and space from her home in California to Maryland from 1819 to the 1830s so that she can save the life of white slaveowner Rufus, who is her many times removed ancestor; if she doesn't save him (and as Rufus grows up, Dana is increasingly tempted not to save him), she will kill not only herself but all the members of her family. What she has to do to ensure her own existence gets progressively more horrible even as she progressively loses her distance from the time she visits in every way; Dana quickly becomes a de facto slave, instead of a woman pretending to be a slave, and winds up countenancing some of the worst sorts of things that happened under slavery to make sure that she stays alive, through time, to go back to them.

Cut because it's long )

ETA: Rereading what I've written, I see that I've mostly failed to address the book's real subject matter; as calico_reaction notes, despite the overlay of time travel Kindred is essentially historical fiction about (the experience of) being a slave, and that's what makes the book so harrowing, and at times horrifying: Butler doesn't spare Dana and the reader, since Dana experiences or witnesses almost the entire gamut of violence to which slaves were subjected by their white masters and white society. But equally importantly, Butler also writes the slaves on the Weylin plantation with whom Dana connects as fully fleshed human beings making impossible choices and doing their best in impossible circumstances; people like Sally and Carrie and Nigel and Alice are far more sympathetic than Rufus or even Kevin, and deservedly so. Kevin in particular can never fully understand what Dana experiences, even though he knows what happened intellectually, which…neatly encapsulates the dilemma of being an "ally", or so it seems to me (quote marks because I dislike that word in this context). But I think another of this book's triumphs is precisely that it illustrates that, that Kevin remains on the outside even in the C19th, that it's Dana's experience and Dana's choices with which the reader sympathizes to an excruciating extent, that it's her story rather than his or Rufus's, that it's her experience of slavery that we are made to grapple with. To a contemporary reader it's a hugely discomforting book to read (and Butler actually implicitly discusses why in-text, when Dana mentions having to modify her direct 1970s prose to fit the more florid 1820s style when she writes Rufus's letters), which is unquestionably a good thing; slavery is an experience no contemporary reader will ever have, but whose legacy in the form of racism and the systems of oppression that structure our society is still very much present. And Dana's story forces the reader to confront that too.

I don't know; I feel like I'm speaking from ignorance here, and that I've said more than enough. It's definitely time to go to bed. /eta


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