One moment Dana is in her living room in California in 1976, the next she finds herself in a forest clearing watching a child drown in a river. She rescues the child and is transported back home just as mysteriously, to find that only a few seconds have passed.
Dana later discovers that she has been travelling in time and space to Maryland in the 1800s, a very dangerous place for a black woman. Rufus, the white boy whose reluctant guardian angel she seems to have become is a distant ancestor of hers, and Dana believes she must keep him alive to ensure that she herself will one day be born. She returns over and over to save Rufus from the various dangerous situtations he gets himself into, all the time desperately wanting to stay home in 1976 with her husband.
Kindred reminded me a little of The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger because the main character in that story also time travels involuntarily, sometimes with terrible consequences, but this book came first, having been first published in 1979. It is never explained how Dana is transported back to Maryland or home again and she has only her own theory as to why it happens. Because of this, while Kindred is technically science fiction, it could arguably be classed as literary or historical fiction.
Kindred not an easy book to read since it deals with the harsh reality of life as a slave, seen through the eyes of a modern woman. The slaves are coerced using violence or the threat of being sold and separated from their families. There are descriptions of brutal beatings and the injuries they cause. Dana worries about how the experience may change her, and has to make some tough decisions about what she is prepared to do to ensure her own survival. Her relationship with her white husband, Kevin, is contrasted with that between Rufus and Alice, the black freewoman he forces himself on. Dana also feels conflicting emotions towards Rufus, whom she finds she cannot simply hate.
The book is one of Octavia Butler's most popular novels and is studied in many high schools and university courses. It is a gruelling, but fascinating read that had me hooked from the first line:
"I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm."
Recommended for anyone interested in the antebellum South or just looking for an intense, emotional novel.