Have you ever read a book a second time and have it finally click into place? The latest re-packaging of The Parable of the Sower fell into my lap recently. I had no idea I had read it already, but when I went to update Goodreads – voila! It slowly came back to me that while I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted for Butler. Keep reading to see what I thought of my re-read!
When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.
Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.
Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: drug use, rape, incest, pedophilia
Throughout the years I have made it a mission to read all of Octavia Butler’s books. Discovering her short stories in college and then writing my undergraduate thesis on the Xenogenesis books, I’m kind of obsessed. I remember reading Parable of the Sower around the same time. While I liked it, for some reason it just wasn’t clicking with me. With it’s recent ascent into the NY Times Bestseller list I wanted to pick it back up again, without remembering I had read it before.
Now you may ask me why I’m even mentioning this. In this new paperback edition there’s a forward from SFF queen N.K. Jemisin. And you wanna know something? Jemisin also had to read The Parable of the Sower before she got it. So going into this re-read I felt it, not only blessed by Jemisin, but also the pressure off. I think we have this idea that a book has to instantly capture us. But sometimes we discover the right book at the wrong time. Sometimes it takes a while to percolate.
What I didn’t realize when I read The Parable of the Sower was how powerful it would be to see a future for Black bodies. This was one of the most poignant messages from Jemisin’s forward. And it’s true. The power in seeing yourself in a world that was built with systems against you. Where your future isn’t guaranteed. The Parable of the Sower is a story about transformation. This journal entry style book details Lauren’s escape and creation of Earthseed.
What happens when the world we know is burning around us and we’re holding tightly to the past? To a world of laws which are now broken? Or locks which cannot keep out the wind? Forced to take justice and protection in their own hands, Lauren and her family has to figure out what to do with the ashes. Because if they aren’t ashes right now, they face water shortage and growing crime. Faced with this, Lauren witnesses her community slowly disintegrating, where we are still bound to our visions of the past.
Reading The Parable of the Sower today, just four years away from the setting, feels eerie. What Butler seems to be asking is about the future of humanity. In this world, and maybe in our current one as well, do we think the worst, or best, of people? In the face of survival, we can cling to communities which are either united by fear or belief – or a bit of both. How can we survive, together or alone? And what do we cling to at the end of the day?