By Octavia Butler
Beacon Press, 9780807083697, 2004, 264pp.
The Short of It:
Not your typical science fiction read.
The Rest of It:
Dana and her husband Kevin find themselves in a unique situation. While celebrating her 26th birthday at their home in California, Dana becomes dizzy and then disappears before Kevin’s eyes. In an instant, Dana is transported to a Southern plantation. Her mission is apparently to save the white child who is drowning in front of her but this simple act of kindness earns her a shotgun pointed at her face when the plantation owner believes her to be the cause of his boy’s condition, not the other way around. As a black woman, Dana quickly realizes that if she doesn’t watch herself, she could end up enslaved along with the other slaves on the plantation.
This novel uses time travel to tell its story. Each time Dana goes back, Rufus, the young boy she saved is a little bit older and more like his father every day. Although Rufus makes disappointing choices which often result in a beating for Dana, she somehow feels a connection to him. And then when Dana’s husband Kevin enters this strange world along with Dana, things become much more complicated as Kevin is white, and the people of this time period don’t believe in a marriage between a white man and a black woman.
This is a strange story. I was immediately pulled in by the premise but it continually felt wrong to me and no explanation is given regarding the events in this story. We never learn why Dana has been called to return to this time. There is a short mention of ancestors and it is implied that Rufus is family. I suppose you don’t really need an explanation for the story to work but I was looking for one.
Butler does a good job of depicting plantation life and expressing the horrors through Dana’s eyes. If you’ve maxed out on slavery books this one might be one for you to try because it’s very different and hey, it’s science fiction.
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