Book Review: Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia Butler

Book Review: Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia Butler

Cover art illustrated by Paul Lewin

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: Earthseed Duology (Book #1 of 2)

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Pages: 356 pages (Kindle Edition)

Published: October 1993 by Del Rey

Parable of the Sower is hard to put down, harrowing, and much darker than I expected.

“There is no end
To what a living world
Will demand of you.”

It is most likely that any praises I give this book that has been mentioned by someone else. But I haven’t checked any reviews on this novel yet, and I want to convey my brief thoughts regarding my reading experience. I have one word to summarize my reactions and feelings in reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler: shocking. I am surprised by how good this was, shocked by how dark it was, and astounded by how prophetic and relevant it was. For these reasons, among many, The Earthseed duology has often been hailed as a classic dystopian/sci-fi novel by many readers and critics. And I can’t disagree with this. But I also will voice this, it is sad Parable of the Sower is remembered and praised for its relevancy to the continuous state of our world. It shouldn’t be this way. I will explain my reasoning later.

“That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times.”

Parable of the Sower is the first book in Earthseed duology, and the story begins in the year 2024; yes, not long from now. The story revolves around Lauren Olamina and her family, who live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Lauren, her father, and plenty of other citizens are trying to salvage what remains of a culture. If it still can be called that. Their civilization is ravaged by drugs, wars, disease, chronic water shortages, and many more. Survival is getting harder each day, and to make things more difficult, Lauren is struggling with hyper empathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others. I went into Parable of the Sower as blind as possible. For whatever reason, I somehow managed to avoid knowing about the plot of this duology, even though this book was first published 29 years ago. And as mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was surprised by what I found here. Parable of the Sower is a ruthless story told from the first-person narration (or diary) of Lauren Olamina. It is a dark novel about civilization spiraling into chaos, hatred, and unlimited violence. But it is also a story about faith, family, hope, and community.

“The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren’t any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees.”

It is worth noting that Parable of the Sower is not an easy read, and I am not talking about the accessibility of the prose. Butler’s prose was engaging, accessible, and vivid. Honestly, I struggled a bit in the first quarter of the novel. The early sections of Parable of the Sower have minimum dialogues and actions. It felt like I was reading a stream of consciousness. Fortunately, this situation eased quickly after the first quarter, and I couldn’t put the book down to the end. The characterization of Lauren and the various characters she met were superbly-written. I felt like I’d gotten to know every one of them. And I know many hardships await the characters, but I eagerly look forward to reading the continuation of their stories. However, despite the easy flow of the prose, Parable of the Sower was uncomfortable to read for its merciless brutality and applicability to our world.

“It’s better to teach people than to scare them, Lauren. If you scare them and nothing happens, they lose their fear, and you lose some of your authority with them. It’s harder to scare them a second time, harder to teach them, harder to win back their trust. Best to begin by teaching.”

Parable of the Sower is not a big book. At 116,000 words, you can probably read this relatively small novel in probably two or three days. But please do not ever take its small size to mean the book was lacking in its massive impact. Far from it, the topics, events, and issues discussed in the novel are insanely dark, violent, and sadly relatable to our civilization. I went into this book as blindly as possible, and still, I wouldn’t have expected the book to be this violent. It is one of the darkest books I’ve read. This isn’t to say that I haven’t read novels crueler and darker than this. I have, several times. But what made the chaos in Parable of the Sower terrifying is its believability. These devastating events have happened, whether in America or around the world. Speaking from my own experience, I have survived and witnessed something similar to the deadly riots portrayed in Parable of the Sower. Those who lived in Indonesia will know what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the May 1998 riots in Indonesia. I won’t go into details on this event; you can look it up if you haven’t heard about it. But suffice to say, Butler has captured the vivid insanity, fear, and nightmarish situation of this kind of massive unrest in her writing. It’s truly incredible.

“They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable. And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it.”

For its frightening relevancy, resonating themes, believable characters, and also engaging prose, I have to applaud Butler for the creation of this novel. In 1993, too! But at the same time, it is a tragedy to our world that the events in Parable of the Sower can even be considered something relevant to us. It shouldn’t be. Parable of the Sower totally deserve its classic status. But I believe the moment Parable of the Sower is stopped being praised for its relatability, that is a sign of our world and civilization ascending toward a better place. Will that ever happen? I am not sure. Probably never. No one can predict it. But Parable of the Sower teaches us that nothing is constant in our life except change. God is change. No good thing stays, and no bad thing last forever. The only certain thing is changes. But no matter how hard it is, we have the power to adapt ourselves to every change we encounter. I am thoroughly impressed by this novel, and I look forward to reading the sequel to this novel, Parable of the Talent, next month.

“There is no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you or take revenge for you.”

You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

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