Premise: Anyanwu cannot be killed and Doro cannot die. When Anyanwu is chosen by Doro as his companion, she agrees to his breeding plans only to keep him from hurting her children. But Doro ends up needing more than just Anyanwu’s unusual gene pool to bring new meaning to his 4,000+ years of life. Historical Fantasy published in 1980 by multiple Hugo and Nebula award winning author Octavia E. Butler.
Why I Read This Book? Blame this quote: “[Doro] wandered southwest toward the forest, leaving as he had arrived–alone, unarmed, without supplies, accepting the savanna and later the forest as easily as he accepted any terrain. He was killed several times–by disease, by animals, by hostile people. This was a harsh land” (pg. 3).
About: This book is a love story (although sometimes, I thought it was turning into a hate story) that spans ages of time and two different continents. Because of this, the atmosphere and settings change drastically throughout the course of the novel. But the fantasy component makes this book a power story, also. The long-lived protagonists seek out other people with unusual, inheritable powers (like mind-reading or healing abilities) and work to develop these powers through opposing methods (force vs cultivation). The inherited powers often drive their users mad, and the two protagonists react differently to this eventuality.
Themes: I don’t usually talk about themes, in my book reviews, because who cares? But this novel is so heavy, it would be pointless to write a review without exploring them. It explores some common themes like the redemptive power of love; several specifically African themes, like the brutality and preciousness of life in pre-modern Africa and in the slave trade; it also examines more specifically American themes like race relations throughout our country’s history–but in a unique way, not just from the modern African-American perspective, but from the very powerful, very African perspectives of Doro and Anyanwu; and several more modern themes like the fluidity of gender. They are complex and interesting—Butler does not preach at us, in this novel.
And best of all, she manages all this in a tense, moving narrative.
The Cover & The Atmosphere: That first cover disturbs me, but it does accurately reflect the weirdness of this novel. The story and characters feel ancient, even barbaric. I had trouble relating to Anyanwu and Doro because they were so strong and other-worldly. There is a strong animal presence in them because they lived for centuries in the premodern times where survival was the virtue.
Overall: Read it! Seriously, this book is completely unique.
P.S., Trigger Warnings: There’s some weird sexual stuff in this novel—several historically-realistic depictions of sexually or physically abusive relationships, including incest. It’s really a beautiful story, but just FYI.