by Octavia Butler
Guardian 1000 Novels
Everyone knows slavery is bad, but I have the luxury of feeling it's mostly bad in an abstract sense. The conceit of Kindred - modern African-American protagonist Dana travels back in time to a Maryland plantation where she interacts with ancestors, both black and white - makes the trials and tribulations of the slave's plight more immediate. Dana has modern education and sensibility, but it helps her only a little against the weight of society's oppression. Just as jarring is the effect on her white husband, Franklin, when he accompanies her on one of the trips. Despite his more privileged status as a white man, he is just as powerless to change or improve things for the slaves. It is easy for them to fall into the routine of the pre-Civil War southern society. Octavia Butler doesn't turn a blind eye to the individual acts of cruelty and torture that slaveowners inflected on the slaves, but what she paints as the most troubling feature is just how easy it is for everyone to accept.