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Jones’ debut novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, is set in Virginia twenty years before the Civil War. Its premise is built on slave owners who, like their slaves, are black. But to reduce this book as such would be an injustice to the moral complexities of slavery Jones is able to investigate in a multi-layered novel. The novel’s structure is as complex as its theme, jumping around in time and encompassing a large cast of characters. It is the type of book that, as soon as it was released, became an instant classic.
Butler is a science-fiction author, and though she tackles a subject that is very real, she manages to stay true to her sci-fi roots in Kindred. The novel follows a black woman named Dana, who, through the invention of time travel, is able to move back and forth between 1976 California and pre-Civil War Maryland. She meets her ancestors—a cruel slave owner and the black woman he has forced into slavery—and becomes more and more entangled in their world, leading to complications Dana must overcome in order to ensure her own future.