Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Family Book Swap: Parable of the Sower

Title: Parable of the Sower
Author: Octavia E. Butler

via Amazon

Lauren Olamina is a fifteen-year-old girl living in southern California in the 2020s.  Except it's not now exactly.  Butler published her novel in 1993.  In the future she envisioned, climate change has brought economic collapse.  Lauren's family lives in a gated community which doesn't do a very good job of protecting them from roving street gangs, many of them high on a drug which makes fire look awesome.  So they burn people's houses and also rape and murder people.  And steal all of their stuff.  It's all pretty bad.  

However, Lauren's not one to sit quietly.  She's prepared for the worst, or so she thinks.  She has also invented her own religion.

When reading a dystopian narrative, one must parse out what is metaphor from what is cautionary tale.  In this case, while Butler offers a culprit for the future condition of the world, the sad truth is that much of her story is a repackaging of history, or even the present.  Forced migration - where Lauren's adventure ultimately leads - is real.  It has happened over and over again.  Listen to news reports about current conditions in Honduras and it doesn't really seem so different from the horrors Lauren must escape.  Human slavery is real.  Human trafficking is real.  The exploitation of "unskilled" labor is real.  Butler hits on all of these in a fictional context but it's an easily believed world.

At one point, Lauren and her fellow travelers go through Salinas.  No late 20th century writer brings up Salinas, California by accident.  It's an obvious allusion to Steinbeck.  The message is clear: this has all happened before and I'm not even the first person to write about it.

Parable of the Sower is a strong novel and it reads fairly quickly.  Butler develops characters well, though I'd say there are a few too many of them.  I was half-tempted to make a diagram.  There is a sequel and I'm definitely curious.  In fact, Butler initially envisioned a trilogy though she died in 2006 without having written a third book.  


  1. Sounds interesting. I am curious about the religion Lauren creates as the name of the novel draws on one of Jesus' parables. I look forward to reading your review of her second book


    1. I thought that might catch your eye...

      Her concept of God is very interesting. In essence: God is change. There's more to it, of course, but that's the basic concept. So different from the usual Judaeo-Christian view that God is the constant. The gathering of disciples is an important part of the story, too. I lost track, though there may have been 12 by the end.

      I'd be very interested to know what you think if you should read it.

      The parable itself is not quoted directly until the very end of the book.

  2. That sounds good, although I'm glad you include the aspects you don't like.


    1. I am often frustrated by the over abundance of characters in a story. Narrative simplicity is more compelling than many realize.