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Always Coming Home (California Fiction) Paperback – February 5, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Envisioning a possible future (and attacking present folly), Le Guin reinvents a ``primitive'' past. The autobiography of a woman of the Kesh, living in the Napa Valley in a distant post-Industrial age, occupies 100 pages. The rest of the book (and a cassette) provide documentation of Kesh spiritual and material culture, from kinship and language to arts and philosophy. Dancing their oneness with nature, valuing cooperation over competition, the Kesh survive contact with the hieratic, war-making, death-dealing Condors, who are a lot like us. If it's hard to believe in a people who use computers and electricity but plow with oxen and see wealth as giving, that's part of the point. The narrative is interrupted by poems, tales, and ``data,'' which demand patient pondering--something Le Guin's many admirers are certain to provide. However, the considerable pleasures of this book are not the pleasures of the novel. Patrica Dooley, formerly with English Dept., Drexel Univ., Philadelphia
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Adds up to a gorgeously complex portrayal of a yet-to-exist society." -- Globe and Mail

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Product Details

  • Series: California Fiction
  • Paperback: 525 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; F First Paperback Edition Used edition (February 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520227352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520227354
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By dampscribbler on April 7, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a marvelous collection of "an anthropology of the future." LeGuin excavates stories, songs, beliefs, myths, traditions, and more of the people who "will be might have been" someday living in what is now Northern California. At once Utopian and Dystopian, the culture that LeGuin shares with us is beautiful and complex.
I read this book when it was first published in paperback in the mid-80's. It planted and nurtured in me a seed of hope that humans are capable of someday living in community in different ways than we do now. It opened in my imagination doors that I had never before noticed. Here is an example of a new narrative structure, or anti-structure. Here, too, is an example of a new-old social structure, a post-modern tribalism that has returned to "traditional" values such as living in harmony with oneself and one's environment, and recognizing the strength and beauty in ritual and tradition.
Though others (including she) may disagree, I personally have always considered this work Mrs. LeGuin's crowning achievement. As Tolkien did in his Middle Earth stories, LeGuin in "Always Coming Home" creates a new-old world that is unfamiliar yet recognizable, someplace we want to go back to again and again. We are lucky indeed that this book is now back in print!
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Carter on January 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
Ursula Le Guin is my favorite living author, and this is my favorite of her novels. If you don't want a review that comes from that position, which has developed over thirty years and uncountable books and is not (quite) as facile as it sounds, stop now.

This book, though, received a lot of criticism, some of it, perhaps, just. It was criticized for appropriating Native American culture, and although Le Guin is explicit in denying that as her intent, it's an issue worth discussing. Because Le Guin is the daughter of anthropologists specializing in deep study of native cultures, it might be truer to say that those visions of the world have appropriated and influenced her. Nonetheless, this is something to discuss if you teach the book, or recommend it to a friend.

Le Guin's also been variously accused of predicting the future with that least forgivable sin, earnestness, and of creating a prescriptive utopia in which no reasonable reader can believe. These charges, though, I find less worthy of discussion. Those who say it's unbelievable cite

a) the Kesh's success in dealing with the military-industrial Condor through nonviolent resistance (nonviolent resistance actually work? Ridiculous! Oh, wait a minute...),

b) the improbability of the Condor getting so caught up in their exploding toys that they don't make good use of them (also ridiculous! no one would build more and more bombers while failing to provide body armor for their troops, and the Afghanis never drove out the techno-heavy USSR with flintlock rifles), and

c) the belief that the culture of the Kesh "really" wouldn't be anything like this.

If we're talking of earnestness and prescriptive prediction, though, I think such critics undermine their own position.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ian Elliott on May 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
"Always Coming Home" is a unique book by a unique author. It is a slow, quiet, rich read. Those (including the author of the 'With Apologies to Ursula LeGuin' review) who read passively and, consequently, cannot hold onto a book that does not compel their attention will be disappointed. To them I would like to reveal the astonishing information that sometimes the best books require more than one attempt. I first essayed this highly-detailed and multi-faceted creation of a future culture embodying native American values in 1998. I found it both fascinating and slow-going, and the library copy was due before I'd covered half the text. Wishing to own the full edition (which comes with a supplementary audiocassette, "Poetry and Music of the Kesh"), I scouted around but, being ignorant of at the time, could not find the full 'set' of book + cassette. Then for some reason it slipped my mind. I ran across a used copy the other Sunday in a magnificent bookstore in Stanton, California, and it was like catching sight of an old love again. Now I would like to sing her praises to you.
Very few books involve the reader as deeply in the sensibility of a different culture as this one. The descriptions of villages and nature are shot through with the symbolism of a deeply religious way of experiencing the world, a way which is at the same time simple and natural. The central symbol of the gyre or double spiral manifests in the town-planning, artifacts, dancing and education of the Kesh, as well as providing a template for understanding one's passage through life. The complex family and social organization is presented both in schematic form and in the narration of day-to-day customs and interactions.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Angus Macdonald on February 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
To understand this book (other than simply enjoying it), the reader needs to know that Ursula LeGuin's parents were Alfred and Theodora Kroeber. While neither of these names come immediately to most people's minds, another name might -- Ishi. Alfred Kroeber, as a professor of anthropology at Berkeley, was the man who wrote about Ishi, the last member of his native tribe. While by some modern sensibilities Ishi was seen as mistreated, Alfred Kroeber's work with him allowed a vast store of native lore and knowledge to be preserved. Alfred also worked very hard to bring a respect, knowledge and even admiration to the first peoples of California, a group often ignored because they fought no major wars and had, compared to the Plains, Mesa, Northwest Coast, and Woodland tribes, a very simple material culture; Alfred Kroeber tried to show that simple did not mean non-existent, and certainly not unimportant.
Theodora Kroeber worked in an area her husband, but not her daughter, overlooked -- the stories. Her collection "The Inland Whale" is a wonderful and charming preservations of Pomo, Noyo, Nolo and other northern California tales.
Combine these influences with Ms. LeGuin's known stands on the environment, feminism, and the like, stir very, very gently, add people willing to work on music, language, and art and the result is "Always Coming Home".
The book is part anthropological/archaeological report, part recording of stories, and part cycle of life. There is a strange and beautiful poetry to this work. Consider the very first sentence: "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.
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