Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies 3

Monday, March 19, 2012


by Octavia Butler


When this book was published, a few decades ago, it gained fame because it was the first sci-fi book written by a black woman. I loved that the book began with a bang; it hooked me from the first pages.

Dana, a twenty-something black woman living in the 1970s, finds herself pulled back into time. She ends up meeting her ancestors in 1800s Maryland, when slavery ran rampant and the Civil War was still a ways off. She returns time and time again to the same plantation where she is often stuck for weeks or months, unable to control her ability to travel in time. I thought it was wonderful that Butler used the platform of time travel to study the life of a slave from the point-of-view of a black woman from the 1970s.

The set up of this book really made the reality of slavery hit home for me. Dana is just as disturbed by what she’s seeing as the reader is, which makes it particularly powerful. She begins the book looking down on the slaves in some ways, because she thinks they just need to stand up for themselves. Soon she realizes how hopeless their situations can be. Running away will get you beaten when you’re caught. Resisting the master will just make your life harder and may encourage him to sell your family members. It’s a tragic cycle and it begins to break her spirit as well.

I think it’s fascinating that Butler chose to have Dana marry a white man in the 1970s. The beautiful dynamic of their relationship is strained in that decade, but once they are thrust into the 19th century they must find a whole new balance. Her husband, Kevin, is kind and devoted, but their situation is incredibly stressful. 

The white son of the plantation owner, Rufus, is the reason Dana is continually drawn back in time. He is her distant relative and she first meets him when he’s a little boy. Watching his transformation from innocence to bitter maturity is, by far, the most powerful and painful part of the book. Like Dana, we have such hope for him, but at the same time, it’s easy to see how he is just a product of his environment. 

This is my first book by Butler and while I enjoyed it, I’ve heard some of her others are a bit stranger. I may hold off before reading more from her, but I would definitely recommend this one.

The Great White Hope

by Howard Sackler


This Pulitzer-Prize-winning play didn’t thrill me. I’m sure it’s much better on stage, but on the page it feels dated. The plot is a fictionalized retelling of the real life boxer Jack Johnson. He found success during the Jim Crow era and became the very first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. 

The play focuses heavily on his white girlfriend and the controversy their relationship caused. He was actually sent to jail because of the relationship at one point. 

I had a hard time getting past some of the language, for example… 

“Stop beatin on de cullud.” 

“You juss nacheral.” 

“Git de wimmins inside.”

I think this is just one those plays that does a wonderful job representing a period in time, but after a few decades it loses its punch. 

Pair both books with a marathon of films covering some of the history of racism in America: Amistad, Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Do the Right Thing, American History X


Amanda said...

Long before I read this one, I tried to read Parable of the Sower, and that one didnt' work for me at all. I gave up a little bit in. This one, on the other hand, I thought was brilliant. I know someone who is a really big Butler fan, and he says that the Parable series I tried to read isn't that good, and highly recommends Wild Seed as her best work. I was going to read this last RIP season, but then found out the my library system doesn't even own a copy. Ugh! So next RIP, I will ILL a copy early enough so that I can read it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - This was my first book from Butler. I've heard some odd things about her other books, so I've been hesitant to pick another one up. Maybe I'll have to to try Wild Seed next.

Jenners said...

Kindred sounds kind of interesting actually.

Kailana said...

I really enjoyed Kindred. I will have to reread it one day!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - It was! I wasn't expecting the blend of historical fiction and sci-fi.

Kailana - I did too. I think it's one that would be interesting to reread.

B said...

Kindred is a fantastic book. I'm so glad you liked it. Like you it's the only Butler I've read. I haven't heard much about her other books but I'd definitely give one a shot.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brenna - I've heard that she goes in some odd directions in her other books, but I'm sure I'll check at least one of them out in the future.