“Kindred” by Octavia Buler
The severed arm immediately caught my attention. Yup. Since the story involves time travelling, I speculated the dislocated flesh must have been snapped off during the transitory state between different times and space–reminding me of the way Ron Wesley (from Harry Potter) was “splinched” after apparating. In addition, the powerful voice-driven narrative further intrigued me to continue reading. The story isn’t too laden with language, and somehow using time-travelling to transport a modern perspective back to a racist 19th century is extremely appealing. Perhaps it’s because, given the modern promotion of individuality, equality and cultural/racial openness, we can’t help but see those values reaffirmed through the eyes of Dana. Or, could it be that we are simply consumed by vanity or a need to “compare”, to convince ourselves that we’re actually much better off? After all, multiculturalism is an illusion in Canada. Racism gets shoved under the table and becomes something untouched, unvoiced, unidentified. Attitudes that dominate many people from a subconscious level. Is this better or worse? If it were me, I’d prefer racism straight to my face.
Anyway–I’m a bit off topic here. The first-person narrative is somewhat reminiscent of a young adult novel–probably because, like I mentioned before, the story isn’t too laden with language–which is usually the case with YA fiction. This kind of first-person is fast, honest, direct, and gets the story out. For some reason, though, Dana sounds like a teenager to me. Her life “profile” certainly appropriates her as a 26-year-old, since she lives with her husband, works, and is obviously out of school. Despite the context, however, I feel like I haven’t had much opportunity to experience her emotional maturity through the events or crisis that unfold in her life. Her “adventures” back in time with her ancestors require mostly survival, and it’s difficult to judge her maturity based on her behaviours because she interacts with people of the past and not of her time. In other words, she isn’t properly situated in a place where she can simply be “herself”–and in relation to a 26-year-old in he 1800s, she certainly appears “young” because she remains “unmarried” (since she pretends to be a slave) and childless; as opposed to Alice’s mother, also in her 20’s, has already married, given birth to a daughter and has lived so many lives, though she is not old. (A quote I pulled from Nelly Furtado’s song, “Try”. I just love that line.)
Other things that came to mind:
- The fact that both Dana and Kevin are writers is SO OBVIOUSLY a self-reference on the part of the author…not that there’s anything wrong with it. Authors tend to shred pieces of themselves onto their characters. The passion for books and writing is a universal one.
- Refus’ mother is, yes, of a bitchy character. (I love how I can say that in a scholarly manner.) However, I sympathize with her and to some extent pity her–as I often do with most bitchy characters I encounter in the real or fictional world. This kind of mean-spirited outwardly aggression usually originates from a profound inseurity and fearfulness within. Margert Weylin (just looked up her name) is vain, hysterical and impatient to the extreme, which is her reaction to the hollowness inside of her because of her inability to read and write. Somehow this equates her to the slaves, who are also illiterate. Perhaps this unsettles her and frightens her because other than her white heritage and her youth and beauty, she has nothing else. What would happen to her if Tom Weylin decides that she is worthless? She is a slave of her fragile mind and her own making.
- The matters of racism didn’t surprise me–the whipping, the patrols, the raping, the disrespect…somehow these images are all stored within me. Does my ethnic background give me more sensitivity towards issues of racism and racial/cultural acceptance? I think it does, since being Asian certainly isn’t being white, and it is not the “default” race in Canada. Race is a stupid thing anyway. Why can’t we just treat each other as people or individuals, and just be people together?
“Perhaps it’s because, given the modern promotion of individuality, equality and cultural/racial openness, we can’t help but see those values reaffirmed through the eyes of Dana.”
For some reason I was under the impression that Dana’s story takes place in 21st century–so right now, basically. The style of writing is very modern, in my opinion–but then again, I haven’t read much from the 1960s and 70s so I can’t really be the judge of that. The social climate fifty years ago is obviously very different–Dana and Kevin both encounter racism as a couple when they talk of marriage. Racism was still more prevalent during those two decades.
Speaking of which, Dana does sound more mature when she talks about marriage with Kevin–like I said before, she sounds like a teenager in the first two chapters.