Writing is one of the few professions in which you can psychoanalyse yourself, get rid of hostilities and frustrations in public, and get paid for it.
In my pursuit to read books by women for a year– and specifically women of color– I turned to Octavia Butler. Last summer I read books one and two of her Xenogenesis Series (also known as Lilith’s Brood) and her short story Blood Child–a pdf is available online.
When I read Octavia Butler, I’m ready for three things.
- science fiction with the understanding that the genre is perfect for commenting and critiquing our world and culture
- a detailed analysis of culture
- a diverse cast of characters and a female lead of color
Parable of the Sower lived up to these expectations.
The book follows Lauren, a teenage black woman living on Earth after the planet has suffered ecological disaster and the United States has all but fallen into anarchy. Lauren lives with her dad, a Minister, and her family behind a walled city, one of the only ways to protect yourself from a world where walking outside of your gate almost certainly means being robbed, raped or killed. I loved the raw and brutal depiction of the United States because the danger was real and very plausible. The narrative brought up issues of modern day slavery where most jobs do not pay or pay in company scrip from company-owned cities and towns. The economic situation pitted the poorest people living on the streets against the less-poor but barely eeking out a living families who live behind walls, like Lauren. The story is a survival story: when Lauren’s walled city is destroyed, can she survive the danger posed by her fellow human beings?
Lauren also has a secret. Though her father is a minister and she was raised Christian, she doesn’t believe in a Christian G-d. Her understanding of G-d is a self-designed religion called Earthseed, told through poems at the start of each chapter.
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
― Octavia E. Butler Parable of the Sower
I’m sure I missed many of the religious references because as a Jew, I don’t know the Christian Bible and often miss Biblical allusions, but someone with a stronger background in religion would, I’m certain, have endless entertainment parsing through the novel.
There were a few things in particular I loved about this book.
- Lauren is black but her race is not her one and only defining attribute.
- Lauren has sex and doesn’t apologize for it, demean, or demonize her sexuality.
- the main characters are racially diverse with multiple characters who are black, white, Hispanic, or mixed. One character never serves to represent their entire race.
I have not read the sequel, Parable of the Talents, but from the summary, it seems as if it will patch up a few issues of the story I struggled with. The novel is a brilliant text and a feminist text, but I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I wanted to be. Especially as the novel progresses and we have more and more main characters to follow I have difficulty keeping up and wished the story were more character driven and less plot driven (though the Xenogenesis series had the same issue). Still, I would highly recommend Parable of the Sower for your reading list to add more female authors of color to your shelf.
Next up: the Poisonwood Bible. Keep on reading!