Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: Parable of the Talents

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents is the sequel to Parable of the Sower, which I reviewed last year. It picks up a few years after Sower left off and deals primarily with Lauren Olamina's struggle to establish her new religion Earthseed, especially after her community is struck by unbelievable violence.
Lauren Olamina's love is divided among her young daughter, her community, and the revelation that led Lauren to found a new faith that teaches "God Is Change". But in the wake of environmental and economic chaos, the U.S. government turns a blind eye to violent bigots who consider the mere existence of a black female leader a threat. And soon Lauren must either sacrifice her child and her followers -- or forsake the religion that can transform human destiny.
Sower can be unbelievably depressing during much of that book. But I thought that Sower was ultimately hopeful, with Lauren and Bankole in love, married, and starting Acorn as a community of like-minded people. Maybe its just the current political environment, but I found Talents to be even darker. This is the kind of book that makes me question the decency of human beings. Its scary to think of the awful things that happen in this book happening and yet Butler makes it all seem very possible.

The hard part in discussing this book is judging it on its own merits. In some ways, Parable of the Talents does actually stand on its own quite well, since the tone of it is so different from Sower. This book is told mostly through Lauren's journal, introduced by her daughter Larkin and interspersed with journal selections from Bankole (Lauren's husband) and Lauren's brother. So rather than just getting Lauren's opinion, we get multiple points of view. Which was hard in its own way. While I don't always agree with Lauren's actions, I find her to be a very sympathetic character, someone I emotionally root for. for me, Larkin was not. She presents herself as a historian, a chronicler of events. But she is, for obvious reasons, emotionally involved in the actions of the book. She blames her mother for how unfairly life has treated her and her bitterness seeps into her words. Is it fair of me to dislike her for her anger? No, of course not. She has an incredibly hard life, filled with tragedy and heartbreak.

I have to give credit, though, to Butler for creating this world, filled with these characters, and making them so real and believable. Clearly, this is a powerful book and one that I highly recommend. I do wish that the ending wasn't so rushed, but that is a minor quibble in the overall impact of the book.

Buy Parable of the Talents on Amazon.

Parable of the Sower was nominated for a Nebula for best novel in 1994. In 1999, she received the Nebula for Parable of the Talents. According to Wikipedia, Butler had originally planned to write a third Parable novel, tentatively titled Parable of the Trickster and mentioned it in a number of interviews.

1 comment:

  1. I loved both Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. You are so right about judging the book on its merits, and taking Larkin's animosity towards her mother in stride...

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