Ursula K Le Guin
Reviewed by Gail Jamieson, 2003
It had been some time since I had read one of Le Guin's books and Deirdre
Byrne's Minicon talk on her last year had stirred my interest again, so I was
glad when this review book arrived. I was not disappointed.
I have not read any other of the tales of the Hainish but the clues dropped
as you read the novel make that unimportant. This is the tale of Observer
Sutty, whose personal sorrow underlies every part of the book.
Sutty goes to the planet of Aka, whose people have overthrown all their
traditions, to the extent even of burning all the books which were written in
their old language. After many requests she is finally permitted to go far
into the hinterland, away from the cities where there is a suspected
following of a banned religion.
Sutty travels slowly and begins to be accepted by the people she finds in
the village of Okzat-Ozkat. She also finds that she is under the surveillance
of a Monitor of the Corporation (who wish to destroy every traditional vestige
of their heritage and re-educate the people) who warns her that the people
will try to convert her.
As she lives among the people, we gradually learn about them and about her
previous life and why she has fled it, full of sorrow. She finds that there
is indeed an underground following of the past religion and she struggles
valiantly to understand"The Telling" which is an aural
tradition. She comes to feel that it is very important that this tradition is
not lost and when the opportunity to travel to the place where all that has
been saved of it is stored arises she jumps at it and starts another journey.
By the end of the novel the events which unfold both hurt and heal her but
I am left with a good feeling for the people of Aka.
As usual with Le Guin's novels, you need to read and pause to consider
because there are many layers and levels to be enjoyed. I can recommend
this novel to those who are tired of the high body counts you get in many
SF/fantasy novels today. There is more thought than action and I will now
look out for more novels of the Hainish.