I read this gem of a book thanks to a science fiction class I took this past semester. While Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler is packaged such that the trilogy is in one volume, due to time constraints our class only read the first volume, entitled Dawn.
The book is set in a post-apocalyptic time, hundreds of years after nuclear war has annihilated most of humanity and ruined Earth. The story follows Lilith, one of the few humans saved by the Oankali, an alien race that is attracted to the complexities of human beings and who are driven to heal our ravaged planet. Lilith is trained to help the other human survivors make the transition back to a newly healed Earth.
Dawn is driven by the tension derived from miscommunication between the Oankali and the humans. With this constant push and pull throughout the story, the Oankali remain complex, elusive characters.
My reading experience is what stands out to me. No book has made me think as much as this one has. It brings to question the definition of humanity, costs of survival, such complex issues as Stockholm Syndrome and leadership, adaptability versus staying true to oneself, and what it means to be an outsider.
In all honesty, my class had a mixed reaction to Dawn: half of us loved it while the other half trudged through. I believe the distinction between the two mindsets came down to how sympathetic or even neutral the reader remains in respect to the Oankali throughout the book. And that, I believe, is part of Octavia E. Butler’s genius. As a woman with a stutter who grew up in a racially mixed and economically challenged neighborhood, she comes from a place ideally suited towards exploring themes of segregation, persecution, mixed heritage, interactions with those different from oneself, and the huge, insanely messy can of worms that is communication and empathy.
At the end of the day, I cannot recommend this book to you enough. While it can be uncomfortable at times—how can it not, tackling such issues?—it has a permanent spot on my favorite-books-of-all-time shelf. It is such experiences that lead to growth as an individual and, ultimately, as a society.
P.S. Interested in a quick read? Take a look at Octavia E. Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds.”