The survival tales Kindred and Room battled it out for my affections, and they were each excellent competitors. Both novels are intimate portraits of slavery and involve extreme power dynamics between men and women, complex family relationships, and heart-wrenching escapes.
In Kindred, African American writer Dana is repeatedly swept back in time to save her several times great grandfather Rufus each time he is in mortal danger. Here’s the rub: She is sent back to a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation and her grandfather is a white slave owner.
As Dana gets to know her white slave owning ancestors as well as her black enslaved ones, deceptively simple language describes incredibly complex characters, relationships, emotions and motivations.
Though Kindred’s plot drags at times, the book is redeemed by its central relationship between Dana and Rufus. We watch as Rufus grows from a boy into a man and as he alternately resists and succumbs to the racism and inhumanity of his place in history. Dana is a resourceful, modern woman who finds herself slowly relegated to the role of pseudo-slave. Her relationship with her great grandfather is one of kindness and cruelty, brutal honesty and deception, cooperation and opposition, hatred and love.
Jack is a five-year-old boy who lives in a single room with his Ma. Jack believes that “Room,” the things in Room and his Ma are real, but everything else is “TV.” When Jack’s Ma explains that there is an entire world outside and that she’s been kidnapped and held captive for seven years, Jack is plummeted into a new reality.
The strength of Room lies in the narration. Donoghue writes the entire book from the perspective five-year-old boy Jack. Jack is vibrant, insightful and intelligent. Through his eyes, we see Room as a safe womb of a world filled with games and affection. Yet we can also see what Jack can’t: his Ma’s desperate determination to escape their imprisonment.
I would highly recommend both Room and Kindred. However, I trudged my way through parts of Kindred while Room was a thrilling adventure that I could not put down. So for overall reading experience…