On her 26th birthday, Dana is supposed to celebrate with her white husband Kevin. Instead, Dana is pulled back in time to the 19th century. She sees a boy drowning and saves his life before she comes back to the present. But she can barely process what happened before she gets pulled back again to find the boy a little older. Somehow her fate seems to be intertwined with his. But a black woman on an antebellum plantation is in a precarious position to say the least.
Kindred is a fascinating, well-written, smart book that really takes the system of slavery apart – and in a way that makes for an amazing page-turner.
Kindred looks at the white people who built and kept the system of slavery – and profited of it, of course. And it looks at them very sharply. But it doesn’t leave it at that. It also looks at the black people in the system and does ask some tough questions about their complicity. But – and I want to be super-clear about this – that doesn’t mean that black people are somehow at fault or to blame. They didn’t really have much choice about not being involved.
With the set-up – Dana being from the the 1970s and well-informed about the history of slavery – the book shows that you can be as informed and well-meaning as you like, when the system is built against you, your possibilities to act are severely limited. That Dana chooses herself over doing the morally right thing several times, is understandable and didn’t make me like her any less. Although particularly with regards to Alice, it was tough to swallow.
The dual time-structure doesn’t just make this point, but also shows how racism is still well and alive now, too. Dana married a white man. And Kevin may be nice and “woke”, but that doesn’t mean he realizes what it means to be black in a racist society – the episode with his sister absolutely proved that.
The only thing that wasn’t entirely clear to me is why Dana would keep forgiving Rufe over and over again. But I can accept it.
All of these politics are packed into a very readable, exciting, beautifully written book that I could barely put down. It really is a great book.