Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
For this pleasure reader, there wasn't much pleasure in reading this book. Even still, I was compelled and drawn in. Octavia Butler was a very good writer, and I am glad I did get a chance to finally read one of her books. The narrator, the actress Lynne Thigpen, did an incredible job. Now, when I think of Lauren, I will picture her voice, feminine but strong and rich. I also liked the way she varied her voice to reflect the different characters speaking.
Lauren was a protagonist that rubbed me the wrong way at times (as she did those who knew her in this book). And yet, her strength and the powerful humanity of her won me over. I love reading about strong women, and that is definitely Lauren. For her young age, what she accomplished, despite the odds, must be recognized. She is a true leader, and she is the kind you want to follow, because they ask no more of you than they demand of themselves. I loved the way she brought a small group of survivors together, empowering them, and encouraging them to protect each other and themselves.
The world was bleak, depressing, disturbing, disheartening. Any joy was fleeting, any laughs and 'happy' moments as I listened were greatly appreciated. Hearing of the atrocities that were normal in this post-apocalyptic California setting was not an easy thing for me. At times, I had to remind myself that it wasn't truly the reality (although the way thing are going, this story seems like prophecy). When I got out of my car, I had to pull back out of this book and get back to my normal reality. And I am grateful that this was just a book, even though my senses didn't seem to accept that at times. This book has a powerful message in it that is very timely. The society that we know and love is on the brink, and if we don't stand up, we might find ourselves working as wage slaves, having police and government who hurt us more than they protect us. Politics are not something I go on about in reviews, but this is something that struck me as real about this story, so I have to talk about that in this review. This scary message definitely gets me thinking, and hoping that the United States doesn't end up like this. Not destroyed by some catastrophic event that you might usually find precipitating societal collapse, but chipped away and slowly eroded into a horrible future like a nightmarish dream. More scary because it is so very plausible.
I have to say that I liked that Lauren founded a spiritual movement that kept her small band of compadres together. But, on the other hand, I deeply disagreed with the mantra that "God is change." I was taught (and believe) that God is the same today, yesterday, and forever. My mind and heart won't accept that God is malleable and that we shape God. I can understand that Lauren is about empowering and allowing oneself to be shaped, and to shape back by the forces around them; to survive no matter what, to grow stronger. I just don't think that we have to make God into some concept that is far from the truth to feel strong. In my mind, what I believe is that God is our rock--although we are buffeted by the harsh things we suffer, we can stand on His never-changing promises. Anyway, I don't mean to preach in this review, I am just saying what I feel about the Earthseed religion that Lauren founded. If I was in this story, I would be on board with her mission of creating a home and a community, but I could never accept her concept of God as change. I am glad that she found strength in it and was able to inspire her friends and companions though.
One other thing that I liked about this story is that more than half of the main characters are non-Causcasian. Not that I don't like reading about white characters. I am totally fine reading about any character of any ethnicity. However, it is good to see a main character who is black, who embodies many traits that I love and respect in a protagonist. To see people of color finding their way through some horrible circumstances, seeing the strength from within that compels them forward. Diversity is important to me, and I loved that Lauren's band was diverse, ethnically. And for all their diversity, they were a found family, helping, standing for and with each other, protecting their unit against all threats.
This is not the kind of book I will read often, because I like to read stories that take my mind off the ugliness of life, and that empower me by giving me hope and enjoyment. There is both empowerment, and a tentative hope in this story. But it's a long, hard journey to reap the harvest of those kernels, those small seeds, in my consciousness. Ms. Butler did such a good job of sowing that seed in the tough, unfertile ground of this story, and for that I commend her.
When I eat my Wheaties, I will try more of her stories.
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