Dana Franklin is a black woman who is plunged from her life of freedom in California into another timeline – that of her plantation-bound ancestors in Maryland. After saving the life of her great grandfather Rufus Weylin, the young son of a wealthy white slave owner, Dana’s life, and the life of her white husband Kevin, are entwined with the lives of Rufus and the slave community based in the plantation. Due to the colour of her skin, her contemporary clothes and educated background, Dana is immediately in grave danger of being captured and treated as a slave or unwilling concubine.
Dana’s sporadic visits to the 1810s jump in years, however she is only away for mere seconds at a time in the 1970s leading to the need for a double life in both time periods. While the mechanics of Dana’s time travel are not completely clear - she travels through spells of dizziness - this is secondary to the main thrust of the story where issues of race, class, power and gender are juxtaposed between the two worlds of the early 19th and late 20th centuries. The strength of both the 1976 novel and this graphic novel reissue lies in the presentation of indenture and slavery where white lives are supreme and black lives are bought, sold, abused, and murdered with no recourse to justice.
At the time of the original novel’s publication in 1976, the complex, boundary shifting nature of Butler’s writing was apparent. Until her untimely death in 2006, Butler had won armfuls of awards including the Nebula, Hugo and Lotus that celebrated the hybridity of her writing. Kindred is speculative fiction, but it is also a fiction bound up with the past horrors of slavery, abuse, and the scant rights of women - a critique of American history and notions of the white “American dream”. Kindred is an uncomfortable yet important read; while there have been rights won there is a long way to go before race parity is achieved in the United States. This full colour graphic novel reimagining of Butler’s book is a timely reminder that black lives always matter.
KINDRED / AUTHOR: OCTAVIA E. BUTLER / ADAPTED BY: DAMIAN DUFFY, JOHN JENNINGS / PUBLISHER: ABRAMS BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 10TH