Kindred

I lost an arm on my last trip home.

I’ve been told for quite some time that I couldn’t call myself a lover of the fantasy genre without having read anything by Octavia E. Butler. When my library offered some of her titles a place in the spotlight, I considered it a sign. Kindred it was.

It’s a time travel story. But this time the time traveler is a black woman from the eighties that’s pulled back into the antebellum South, ending up on a slaver’s plantation.

So instead of enjoying the history lesson and possibly being hauled as someone knowledgeable, a genius or a great but terrifying witch, Dana has to fear for her life and freedom all the time. If it looks like a slave, it probably is a slave, after all, no matter how weird she talks. Quickly she discovers a link to the house she keeps returning to, but every time she’s pulled back, it’s harder to adjust and harder to believe that this isn’t her life, these aren’t her problems.

Butler doesn’t mince words nor situations. If a slave does something its owner doesn’t agree with (this ranges from looking at them in a certain way to trying to run), punishment follows. Brutal punishment, written up in vivid detail. If Dana has to suffer, so has the reader. Every small shimmer of hope can be mistrusted, because surely it won’t last. Not in that world.

And yet it’s an incredibly easy, quick read. Maybe it’s the disaster tourist in all of us, you can’t keep your eyes off the terror.

Kindred, Octavia E. Butler, Beacon Press 1979

Little Birds

Manuel and his wife were poor, and when they first looked for an apartment in Paris, they found only two dark rooms below the street level, giving on to a small stifling courtyard.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Classic. And I don’t expect Anaïs Nin to be on the same high school to-read lists like Jane Austen or Mark Twain, but I’m certain she can be called a Classic (the capital is necessary). So, like with other Classics, I picked the slimmest novel of the author and ended up with Little Birds, a collection of (very) short stories.

Erotic stories. Published after her death, so sadly I’ll never know if she gave a damn about being different like that. Maybe people in the 1940s didn’t give a damn either, the preface of the Penguin Classics version doesn’t touch upon any of it. But besides that, does this author deserve the title of Classic?

That’s not easily said after reading just one piece of work, but Little Birds definitely has a certain appeal. The writing is accessible, there is a certain easy rhythm in the short stories that can almost be put to music. And, very important to erotica, there are barely any (horrible) metaphors for genitals.

And maybe most important: Little Birds made me curious about more Anaïs Nin.

Little Birds, Anaïs Nin, W. H. Allen & Co. 1979