April 12th, 2009

red panda eating bamboo

Booklog: Kindred by Octavia Butler

I listened to an audiobook edition of Kindred by Octavia Butler. It is fucking brilliant, and really disturbing because it is about slavery and abusive relationships. It is also depressing because it's about unpleasant parts of US history. But that's not the whole story.
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There are also notes of hope. Several of the characters who have cross-racial interactions gradually move toward seeing at least some people of the other race as human—that is, similar enough to themselves to attempt communication. I imagine that Butler is saying there is a human urge to see other people as equal humans, and that if there’s enough interaction between people who start out as Other to each other, eventually Similar will start to infiltrate. But there are cultural and historical and personal reasons why, in a slave-owning society, no one on either side can fully replace Other with Similar.

I found Kindred a compelling read in a way that Parable of the Talents wasn't for me.

There's a certain emotional detachment in both books, at the same time that Butler describes some horrific behavior and screwed up relationships. I'm not sure if the detachment I sense is due to the way the audiobook narrators chose to approach the works, or if I would have felt the same way if I read the books on paper. Butler's characters for the most part are survivors, whose response to suffering is to get up and go back to the work of surviving and at the same time following their dreams. So it feels as if some of the emotional hard stuff is diluted or buried in hard work. On the other hand, what this also means is that Butler anchors her stories very strongly in the work the characters do and therefore in day to day living.