Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Hurricane Katrina Disaster and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower... An Eerie Resemblance?

A couple of years ago, I read The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It is one of my favorite books. Maybe even one of the best books I've ever read.

For those of you who don't know, Octavia Butler is the premiere black female science fiction writer of our time. She has written twelve novels, mostly centered on human-alien symbiotic relationships, paraspsychological matters, and genetic issues.

Two of those twelve novels, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (collectively known as the Parable Series) are a bit of a detour from Butler's usual fair. The Parable of the Sower is a novel which details what happens when the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world, slowly becomes, because of governmental neglect of environmental, economical, and sociological concerns, a third world country.

(Do you see where I'm going with this?... Hold your horses.)

The Parable of the Sower describes a time from the year 2015 to 2030 commonly referred to as The Apocalypse, or "The Pox" for short. It is a terrible time, where food, water, shelter, transportation, electricity, telecommunication, and other life essentials are scarce. Could you imagine a time when water costs several times as much as gasoline? Well, that was the type of craziness described in this book.

This book is written as a fictional autobiography in the form of a diary or journal (sort of like the Diary of Anne Frank). The protagonist is a 15-year old African-American teenage girl named Lauren Olamina. Lauren details the happenings in and outside of her community. Oh, her community, by the way, consists of a small neighborhood surrounded by a protective wall composed of cement, glass, and razor wire. Such small walled communities are essential for keeping out looters, crazed drug addicts, rapists, thieves, and killers. Even the police are not trusted. They are much worse than the criminals at times.

Eventually, the criminals get through the wall and destroy her entire community. Many in her community are killed, including members of her family. She and a few people in her community must now leave.

They become refugees.

They scavenge for food and water. They must sleep in the bushes and hills at night and take turns keeping watch for criminals. It is a time when it is best not to look clean. That makes you a target. And if you're a woman, it's best to look and dress like a man so you won't be raped.

Lauren and the other refugees from her neighborhood start walking from the Los Angeles area to Washington state. Along the way, she meets many other refugees who join her crew. Lauren eventually goes on to start the religious cult EARTHSEED, a religion based on the idea of "God is Change". The writings in her journal, which consists of various ideas and poetry, become the center of the religion, collected in a book entitled Earthseed: The Books of the Living. They settle in a remote area in Washington state and the commune begins to grow. The Parable of the Talents continues the story...

I thought of the novel The Parable of the Sower while watching the Hurricane Katrina tragedy unfold. It's the only thing I've ever read that remotely resembled (on USA soil) what is happening now. Especially when the media began referring to these people as refugees. And all the while, I've been thinking about how Octavia Butler described some of these same situations, including government incompetence, in the Parable Series. I know she must be shaking her head in disbelief knowing that she wrote something somewhat prophetic, even though it was meant to be mere fiction.

I've been asking myself a few questions, and I asked myself these questions back when I first read the novel. And now, in the wake of what's been going on for the past week, I'm still asking myself the same questions. What would happen if an event occurred which devastated the entire West Coast of the USA? Or, God forbid, what would happen if there was an event, natural or otherwise, that devastated the entire USA?

...And we all became refugees?

Food, water, gas, money, jobs electricity, etc., are scarce or nonexistent. Imagine that.

Chaos, panic, and crime would take over most likely.

I experience discomfort if a storm knocks out the electricity in my home for an hour. And let's not talk about my attitude when I leave my cell phone at home by mistake. (Isn't it funny how so many people consider a cell phone a "must-have" these days?) What would happen if I'm without life's real essentials (water, food, shelter,etc.) for a few hours? A few days? A week? A month? A whole year? How would I act? How would I conduct myself?

I don't know. And I hope to God I never find out...


  1. Anonymous2:45:00 PM

    Is it just me or does the lady on the front of the book look like Venus Williams?

  2. This is the new cover for the reissued book. I also thought that the young lady on the cover looked like one of the Williams sisters.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Ladylee. I'm ashamed to admit that, as much as I love Octavia Butler, the only book of hers that I've read is Kindred.

    Parable Of The Sower is defintely going to the top of the TBR list.

  4. I love Ms Butler but I haven't read any of her books. I need to get this. Thanks for the synopsis.

  5. Wow! I'm going to have to check this book out. Have you read Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkinson, a Caribbean Canadian writer? It tells about the abandonment of Toronto by the Canadian government. It's an excellent book, too.

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and definitely see the comparison.

  7. Marcus...

    I've read Kindred also. But beware: the rest of her books jump very far off the well beaten path. All, with a couple of exceptions, have a strong black heroine, which is why I love her books so much. Plus I like speculative fiction these days. Gives me a little break from the mainstream black lit.


    I hadn't read any of her books either, until a couple of years ago. I hadn't even heard of her. I was picking at a good friend of mine, a caucasian dude, about reading so much science fiction. (That's all he reads. I told him he needed to read some Black lit. for a change.) I told him black people don't read or write about that type of stuff (sci-fi). He responded "Ooooh yes you all do!" He really likes Octavia Butler a lot, and proceeded to pull her books off his bookshelf for me. I've been hooked every since!

    Go check out some of her books. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Start out with the Parable Series. (That alien stuff she writes is good, but oh so wierd...might freak you out.) She has a Vampire novel coming out next month, titled The Fledging.

    Yeah, I've heard of that book. Nalo H. is on my reading list, but I find her a bit hard to read. I've tried reading some of her short stories, but I get a little bogged down in a lot of that Carribean language, so I have shyed away from it. The jacket summary of Brown Girl in a Ring was very interesting. I'll be reading that one real soon, though.

    I've been hanging around your blog for a minute. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Ladylee, I think your "what if" questions will become a reality. The tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, etc., are just previews of what may come upon the USA, the World, one day. We may very well come to the point where Katrina looks like a picnic compared to the other types of devastation that may happen. Everyone has to be prepared, in every part of the country. There is nowhere (at least physically) that you can hide.

  9. Cydney..

    It's just a sign of the times, right??



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