Author: Octavia Butler
Genre: Sci-fi and historical fiction
Age Range: 18+
Published: By Beacon Press on July 20th, 1997
Content Warning: Slavery, sexual assault, violence, torture and suicide
Format I Read: Audiobook
Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.
I picked up this book as it was Stars and Sorcery’s March book pick by popular demand. However, my expectations from this book were quite low as it was published more than 40 years ago and I was apprehensive whether it would stand the test of time. It was also highly praised and recommended and as I’m always wary of high, I consciously lowered my expectations before picking it up.
Dana as the main character worked perfectly as the narrator of this painful and powerful story. She was quick-witted and strong-willed, making her one of the very few strong female characters that I could really identify with. I didn’t like her husband, Kevin, all that much as he was quite a passive character. Rufus, one of the other prominent characters, had a really compelling arc, even though I was horrified by him. The supporting cast was superbly fleshed out and drove the plot forward, which I appreciated a lot.
The plot was relentless in its pace right from the start. One terrible event after another fuel the reader’s curiosity and definitely kept me turning the pages. It was evident that the author did meticulous research on the time period to get the facts straight in this complex narrative with split timelines. The themes that she discussed were heart-wrenching to read about. This book fully delved into what it meant to be a Black person in the 1800s. It explored racism and slavery by immersing the reader in the setting and showing it through the eyes of a modern woman. Overall, this turned out to be one of the best and thought-provoking books on African American history I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
If you can handle the content, I would suggest each and everyone read this wonderful book. It is painful yet necessary to read to see the depths to which we as humans can sink to and how systemic racism has worked since time immemorial to deny people of colour basic human rights. I don’t have any music or food pairings to offer for this as it is the sort of book that demands your entire attention while reading.
Have you read this classic? Do you want to add it to your TBR or is it already on it? What other genre-bending books by people of colour have you enjoyed? Let’s discuss in the comments section below.