Well, all right, let’s be honest: it’s always the perfect day to start reading Octavia Butler’s Kindred, especially if you’ve never read it before. But today, June 9th, is the day I think of as Kindred day: the day that Butler’s heroine Dana first goes back in time. Albeit it’s in 1976, but hey, books are time travel too. So why not go with her?
For the uninitiated, Kindred is probably Butler’s most-read novel; it was first published in 1979 but still feels fresh and urgent, and it manages to be both a historical novel and a SF novel and a literary novel all at once—no small feat. When the novel begins, a young Black woman named Dana finds herself plucked from her L.A. apartment and dropped onto a plantation in antebellum Maryland. Why? How? She doesn’t really have time to think about that, because she immediately has to save the life of a child—a white child, whose mother instantly accuses Dana of trying to kill him. Then Dana is back at home, but for the rest of the book, she finds herself repeatedly drawn back into the past, often to save and/or educate the same (growing) child.
I won’t give any more away, but if you’re a fan of genre-bending, books that make you hold your breath, and/or great literature of any kind, you should read it. The novel asks difficult questions about our interconnectedness, and about how our history makes and unmakes us—and about how much it creates our present, and whether that can be changed. It’s not pretty. But it is essential. It’s a modern classic for this and every time.