Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen KingThis book was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards in the Speculative Fiction genre. As I was in the jury for this genre, I had to read it, which was a pleasure to do! (And actually, I wanted to read it anyway, not just for the awards).

It’s a huge book, and it could have been a bit shorter for my liking, but a good read anyway.

11/22/63: What it is about

Jake Epping, a 35-year old high school teacher, is asked by hamburger concession owner Al to go back in time to stop president Kennedy from being assassinated. Al has found a portal to the past in his store room. He is too ill himself to make any more journeys into the past (although he’s been there many times) and so he hopes Jake will do this for him. Every trip, however long it takes in the past, only lasts two minutes in the current time.

Before he makes up his mind, a mature student tells him about a horrific incident in which his father killed most of his family. Jake decides to interfere in this incident which happened in 1958, the year that the portal leads to.  Then he waits until 1963 to try and stop the Kennedy assassination. But while waiting, he falls in love.

11/22/63: What I thought

I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the 1950s feel. It was clear that King had spend time researching the details to make this a convincing story.

The first 100 or so pages were a bit slow, but then the story took off. There were some slow bits in the middle too. At least, Jake spends several years seeking out Lee Harvey Oswald and making plans to stop him from murdering Kennedy. This I found a little boring at times. Too much focus was given on this. I enjoyed the love story with Sadie much more.

The book felt a bit disjointed at times because of the different story lines. The result of Jake’s visit to the past was surprising and could maybe have been expanded on a little more.

But overall, this was a very good read with a great feel for the time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I got this book: for review from Simon & Schuster for the Indie Lit Awards.

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 850

First published: 2011

Genre: science fiction

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler Kindred is a time travel book and a historical fiction novel at the same time. I wanted to read this book for some time and was thrilled when I won a Book Depository voucher from Kai at Fiction State of Mind during the 24-hour-readthon. Of course, I chose this book!

Kindred: What it is about

Dana, a black woman in the 1970s is married to Kevin, who is white. They are both writers and have recently moved into a new house. When they are sitting together one day Dana suddenly disappears into a different time and place, where she saves a young boy from drowning. Kavin just has to believe the unlikely story when he sees Dana disappear, and reappear within less than a minute, all wet and muddy.

When this happens again (but now the boy, Rufus, is in a different kind of danger and a little older), she realises that he is a (white) ancestor of hers 150 years ago. She knows he will eventually have a daughter with one of the slaves on his father’s plantation, Alice.  Dana feels she has to protect and rescue Rufus from dangerous situations at least until this daughter is born.

During her (ever longer) stays in the past, she learns in person what it was like to be a black person (free or slave) in the anti-bellum South of the US. Her life is in danger a few times as she finds it hard to adapt and be demure and never answer back to the white owners of the plantation. Rufus and his family whip their disobeying slaves unrelentingly.

It is uncertain whether Dana will come back to the 1970s unharmed, or at all. She may die at the hands of the whites if she stays in the past too long.

Kindred: What I thought

From the start, I enjoyed this book immensely. I like a good time travel story and I liked the way this book was written, the style, the premise, I loved it.

Only towards the end, I started to enjoy the book a bit less. Dana’s situation gets more problematic and dangerous the longer she is in the past and I didn’t like that somehow.

There seemed to be a distance between me and what was happening in the past to Dana. Dana finds it a bit unreal, like it’s a game she an escape from. And since I was her reader, so it was for me.  But even when Dana got hurt, it didn’t feel that bad to me (I mean, not as bad as normally when a protagonist gets hurt). I think besides the idea of it being a game, I also didn’t quite identify with Dana.

I think maybe a second protagonist who lived in the past would have been interesting: a female slave who goes through the same ordeals as Dana (or worse) and comments on these from her perspective. For her everything that happened would be the reality and the only reality. I think that way it would strike home to me more directly what a terrible time these people lived in.

What didn’t really make sense to me is the following: Dana seems interested in genealogy. She knows the names of her ancestors by heart and she knows to expect the birth of a daughter at some point. She didn’t know the family background of Rufus and Alice. In her aunt’s family bible, the family tree goes back only to them. If I were in a position to find out more about older ancestors, I would take the chance and question them mercilessly about it.

Shouldn’t Dana have been asking questions about Rufus’ family? And Alice’s? By living with the family she learned the names of Rufus’ and Alice’s parents, but no more. She should have been asking all kinds of questions about where the family came from originally. But that didn’t happen.

It would have been interesting if Dana had contemplated the fact that not only did she descent from slaves, but also from their owners. For instance, how did she feel about the “bad” white ancestry in her genes? In the story, Dana seemed to consider herself only a descendant of the mixed-race child of Rufus and Alice and not so much of a white and a black family line.

And if Dana wasn’t really that interested in genealogy, how could she know the names of her ancestors by heart? The genealogy buff in me was confused.

Now, the main themes of the book were of course slavery and black/white relations. That slavery is bad, we all know and I didn’t learn much new from the book in that respect. But the book was written in 1979, and I don’t know how much this book actually contributed to the general knowledge about slavery.

The treatment of black/white relations was interesting in the book. Rufus, the son of the plantation owner, seems to accept Dana as different from the slaves and treats her better than them. But now and then he can’t help himself and just sees Dana for the black woman she is (i.e., in his eyes, not someone you need to respect or take into account). His parents allow Dana to teach Rufus to better read and write. In fact, they are hardly literate themselves and the fact that Dana is highly literate is a threat to them.

Kevin, who also ends up in the past once, finds it shockingly easy to accept the concept of slavery and most of what it represents. He and Dana do argue about this. After segregation was ended at the end of the 1960s, were mixed marriages quite accepted in society? I wonder and I think this must have caused them some stress too.

I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in race relations, slavery or just generally in historical fiction. While there is some time travelling, which I know not everyone appreciates, it is very “gentle” in the sense that it just happens and not much is said about time travel itself.

Rating: 4.5/5 (the ending wasn’t quite so satisfactory)

I got this book: in a giveaway

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 264

First published: 1979

Genre: historical fiction, time travel

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