PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
by Octavia E. Butler
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler wrote about the disintegration of American culture and the tribulations of Lauren Oya Olamina, a young girl who had lost her family and was forced to make her own way in a California which was very nearly post-apocalyptic. Along the way, Lauren began formulating a religious philosophy known as “Earthseed” with the principle tenet that “God is Change.” Parable of the Talents is a sequel to Parable of the Sower and begins with Lauren and her husband, Taylor Franklin Bankole as the leaders of a small cohesive community, Acorn, amongst the chaos raging in Northern California. Although being a follower of Earthseed isn’t required of the citizens of Acorn, most have espoused Lauren’s fledgling philosophy.
With the chaos surrounding Acorn, of course, this island of tranquility cannot survive for long, especially after the country elects Jarrett, a right-wing, quick-fix demagogue as President. Jarrett’s goons, the Christian Crusade, attack Acorn and turn it into a re-education camp, Camp Christian, destroying the community Lauren and Bankole have built, but not the philosophy which Lauren has been trying to instill in her followers.
Butler’s depiction of the re-education camps seems to be a cross between a depiction of nineteenth-century chattel slavery and the concentration camps of the Holocaust. Without provided exceedingly graphic details, she manages to make the horrors of the camps come vividly alive to her readers as Lauren and the other members of Earthseed simply struggle to survive from day to day. Eventually, the horrors of the camp are left behind, but none will believe they existed, garnering a response from Americans similar to the German response to the concentration camps after World War II.
The story is told by Lauren and Bankole’s daughter, who was taken from them as an infant during the raid which turned Acorn into Camp Christian. Rather than see her raised by her heathen parents, Lauren’s daughter was raised by an unloving family firmly rooted in the Church of Christian America, the organization to which the demagogic Jarrett belongs. Only later in life, does Lauren’s daughter, who goes by many names, including Asha Vere, discover who her mother is and meets Lauren. Parable of the Talents is written as Asha’s attempts to come to terms with her famous mother.
Much of the novel details Lauren’s combined search for her daughter, her attempts to stay alive and her goal of recreating Earthseed in the wake of the disaster at Acorn. These sections of narrative are told in the form of her own journal entries, as edited by Asha after Lauren’s death. Even as Lauren is describing events as they are taking place in these entries, however, there is a feeling that she knows what the outcome is going to be.
Butler has written a powerful and disturbing novel, which warns about what America can become if it gives into demagogues and the religious right. The country she depicts seems, at first, a far cry from what America is, but the reader need only think back to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, the racial tensions of the 1960s and some of the “militias” which exist today to see how America could turn into a country of intolerance and fascism.
Parable of the Talents is not an enjoyable book, but it is very well written and manages to speak its warning clearly. The solutions which Lauren offers up are not necessarily functional, but that fact is pointed out by several other characters in the novel. Rather than trying to write a book which explains how to avoid the pitfalls which occur in her future, Butler has written a book as a warning to try to avoid those pitfalls by showing us how horrible a parody of our culture we can become.
Purchase this book in hardcover from
Purchase this book in paperback from