Buddy-reading Kindred with the Curious SFF Reader


In America February is Black History Month, so it seems fitting that Maryam the Curious SFF Reader and I decided to post our buddy-read discussion of Octavia E Butler’s Kindred today.

A kind of time-travel story in which the time-travel is the least important thing that occurs, Kindred explores, among other things, slavery and trauma, power dynamics, and kinship (biological and chosen). It’s an incredible, powerful, gut-punch of a book that blew us both away, and one of the most intense reading experiences I’ve ever had.

The first half of our conversation can be found over at Maryam’s site here, and then below you’ll find the continuation. So, if you’ve come here first, follow the link over to Maryam’s place; and if you’ve found your way here from there, hi, welcome, enjoy.

And to carry on from where we left off (with a massive SPOILER warning, of course) …

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What do you think about Rufus’s assertions that Alice and Dana are two sides of the same woman?

Mayri: One of his most disturbing ideas! In one sense, he’s not wrong – without Alice Dana would not exist – but it also felt very much like an excuse for him to look at Dana in the same way that he looked at Alice, as something he’s entitled to do what he will to, not as an independent human being. All I really know for sure is that when he said it I felt disgust bordering on nausea – it’s a comment that I closely associate with the final act of the story.

Maryam: I found the idea revolting, especially because he always acted very differently with Alice and Dana until Alice wasn’t around anymore and he decided that “she would do” and be Alice’s replacement. Also, if he really saw them as “two sides of the same woman”, I don’t understand why he was able to force himself on Alice at night and act like a good man when he was with Dana, it makes no sense.

Do you think there was a definite shift in how Rufus and his father were presented in the novel, or do you think our perception shifted as we read?

Mayri: I don’t know if you felt this too Maryam, but as Rufus grew up and his father grew old I found myself re-evaluating them both. I had such hope that Rufus would be better than his father, who seemed a horrible horrible person at the beginning. As Rufus grew up however, I started to feel that his father wasn’t as awful as he could have been, while Rufus was steadily becoming absolutely detestable. It disturbed me to feel my opinion of Tom Weylin changing like this.

Maryam: I felt the same way! In our chapter by chapter discussion, I mentioned that Tom Weylin grew on me quite a bit. I can’t say that I liked him but I could at least understand his actions which is not something I can say about adult Rufus. It was so easy to think at first that Tom Weylin was the bad guy of the story and that he was the one who created the monster that Rufus became later on in the novel but the situation is more complicated than that.

How do you think Dana and Kevin are going to live after the events of Kindred?

Mayri: I honestly don’t know how they’ll manage. Part of me thinks their marriage won’t survive. Another part of me thinks they’ll be closer for having experienced some of these events together. They’ve both been physically marked by the experience in different ways: Kevin has aged the five years he was stuck in the past, Dana has been damaged repeatedly, she’s been scarred, her teeth have been knocked out, and, of course, she lost an arm at the end. That’s a lot to reconcile themselves to.

I guess I can only answer as if it were me – and if it were me, I’d want to get as far away from Kevin as I could. I didn’t like him at all, as you know, and I feel like Dana would be better off without him. Either way though, I agree with what you said when we were chatting about this – they won’t be able to live peacefully.

Maryam: I would like to think that they would be able to talk things out and live together happily but I don’t think they will be able to. More than physical trauma, the emotional trauma must be a lot to bear and seeing how Kevin acted when he was in the past but also he acted before that, I don’t think this experience is going to do any good to their relationship.

If I were in Dana’s shoes, I also would want to go far away from him but then, if it were me, I would never have come back to a man who forced me to do things I expressly told him I didn’t want to do (like acting like his secretary) so, there’s that as well!

I read somewhere online that Butler toned down the violence in Kindred because she was worried it wouldn’t get picked up. Any thoughts on that?

Mayri: Have you seen 12 Years a Slave Maryam? I ask because in some ways this book and that movie had very similar effects on me. I remember watching that film and being struck by how casual the violence was. It was everywhere, at all times, accepted by society. Butler’s book shows violence in the same way – as both small and large, and everywhere. Everyone is in on it. Kindred is stronger for showing both acts of violence and acts of neglect – for showing the pervasiveness of this way of thinking that says one ‘type’ of people are less than another.

Maryam: She toned down the violence?! Wow, I didn’t know that and I don’t know how I feel about it since I thought the book was already pretty violent!

Yes, I saw 12 Years a Slave when it came out and the movie opened my eyes to the reality of being a slave. It was probably the first time I realized what slavery actually was. I knew about it beforehand but it was a very abstract notion in my head and seeing it on screen showed me that slavery wasn’t “just” an historical event but that it affected way too many people for way too many years. The movie was great, I should probably give it another watch!

Mayri: This book has gotten so thoroughly under my skin that just writing up some of these questions and answers has me feeling all sick again – I don’t think I’m going to forget reading this, ever. SO glad we read it together Maryam!

Maryam: It was indeed a very unique reading experience and I’m so glad we were able to discuss it, it’s a great book to buddy read because it brings up so many important subjects that are not really discussed like the emotional impact of slavery. Thank you so much for reading Kindred with me Mayri!!



  1. I can’t remember if you read my review of this novel (https://wp.me/p2oNj1-5vW) but I also found the casual violence hard to contemplate, especially knowing that in parts of the South that attitude and behaviour still goes on. A tough but I felt a necessary read, though I knew enough about the history to accept this was a true reflection of what went on, regardless of the time-travelling.

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    • Ah no, I hadn’t read your post, but I have now. Thank you for linking to it.
      Your last point struck me particularly: we don’t question how Dana’s time travel occurs because it is enough that it does. Similarly, we can’t rationalise the appalling things that have been and continue to be done because some believe(d) that they are superior to others.

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