The first science fiction written by a black woman, Kindred has become a cornerstone of black American literature. This combination of slave memoir, fantasy, and historical fiction is a novel of rich literary complexity. Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
Kindred was chosen for the Litsy Feminist Book Club for the end of October and beginning of November, as it’s a part of a thing called the Lemonade Syllabus. The LS is a list of books, music, and visual media that focus on feminism and history of black women and is based off of Beyonce’s Lemonade.
Kindred takes the “what would you do if you were transported the past angle” and really makes you think about the stark realities of the past and your own life in the present. Dana is taken from the present day in California (which is late 70’s US) on several occasions and is transported back to a time where slavery still has a firm hold on the country. There she saves the life of a young slave owner, who is her own great-grandfather. In this she is faced with indescribable choices. For me the book begins with hope, that even despite being ripped out of time and forced into a time period wholly unfriendly to her she still tries to instill a sort of positive voice for the young man. She hopes to be a source of growing empathy. But as the book progresses that hope becomes more and more stark, and the lessons Dana is forced to learn are hard to swallow.
The thing that stood out the most to me, is the look at personal identity. Dana knows who she is and where she comes from…but she is forced to see herself as others view her both in the past and in the present. Her view of herself encompasses all that she is, as she is forced to live under the views of others we see her have to fight against all of these single stories. It shows the racial divide of “us vs them” mentality that still exists today, even among our own racial demographic. It shows how your identity to others can come from one factor only like who you marry, where you work, and what you look like…and how those views can work to stifle that person and at the very worst keep them subjugated. In fact for such a short book I’m completely impressed with the sheer weight of the conversation that can come from it.
This book was written in the 70’s and it’s still incredibly powerful today. I hated parts of this book, not because they were bad but because they hurt to read. I can relate to some of the issues on display as a woman, a light skinned minority, and as the daughter of a interracial relationship. Kindred is a hauntingly beautiful book that I wholly recommend to everyone.