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The Telling Hardcover – September 11, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st edition (September 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151005672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151005673
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Earthling Sutty has been living a solitary, well-protected life in Dovza City on the planet Aka as an official Observer for the interstellar Ekumen. Insisting on all citizens being pure "producer-consumers," the tightly controlled capitalist government of Aka--the Corporation--is systematically destroying all vestiges of the ancient ways: "The Time of Cleansing" is the chilling term used to describe this era. Books are burned, the old language and calligraphy are outlawed, and those caught trying to keep any part of the past alive are punished and then reeducated. Frustrated in her attempts to study the linguistics and literature of Aka's cultural past, Sutty is sent upriver to the backwoods town of Okzat-Ozkat. Here she is slowly charmed by the old-world mountain people, whose still waters, she gradually realizes, run very deep. But whether their ways constitute a religion, ancient traditions, philosophy, or passive, political resistance, Sutty is not sure. Delving ever deeper into her hosts' culture, Sutty finds herself on a parallel spiritual quest, as well.

With quiet linguistic humor (Dovza citizens are passionate about their hot bitter beverage, akakafi--the ubiquitous Corporation brand is called Starbrew), dark references to the dangers of restricted cultural, political, and social freedom, and beautifully visualized worlds, award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin pens her latest in the Hainish cycle, which includes The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin explores her characters and societies with such care, such thoughtfulness, her novels call out for slow, deep attention. --Emilie Coulter

From Publishers Weekly

In this virtually flawless new tale set in her Hainish universe, Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness; Four Ways to Forgiveness) sends a young woman from Earth on her first mission, to the planet Aka as an Observer for the Ekumen. Although well prepared for her role, Sutty has been horribly scarred by her past. She grew up gay in a North America badly damaged by ecological stupidity and the excesses of a fundamentalist state religion called Unism. Traveling to Aka, she expected (and had been trained) to deal with a peaceful, essentially static culture based on an ancient, all-encompassing belief system akin to Taoism and known as the Telling. When she arrived, however, she discovered that during the decades it took her to reach the planet, Aka's culture has been radically transformed. The Telling has been all but banned, replaced by a soulless form of corporate communism. It becomes Sutty's task to take a harrowing journey into the high mountains, searching for the last, priceless depository of Akan traditional culture before it can be destroyed. As Le Guin notes in her preface, similarities to China during the Great Leap Forward are not entirely coincidental. Although this is a political and philosophical novel of the purest sort, it is anything but dry. With an anthropologist's eye, Le Guin develops her Akan culture in great detail, as she does her characters. Sutty is an entirely successful viewpoint character, a quirky mixture of competence and intense emotion. The Monitor, her primary nemesis on Aka, is nearly as compelling. This is a novel that aficionados of morally serious SF won't want to miss. (Sept.) FYI: Le Guin is the winner of several Nebula and Hugo awards for outstanding SF, as well as of a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

And as with all her books, the ending is too convienient.
Tim Ciccone
Another disappointing aspect of the book is LeGuin's exploration (via Sutty) of the spiritualism practiced in secret by Aka's citizens.
Barbara Siples
In addition, the story itself seems a bit thin, the ending too abrupt, the whole scheme too straightforward.
Richard R. Horton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Kali on November 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
In this book Ursula K. Le Guin creates a world where technology is the all seeing, all doing God of the people. A world where the old ways are condemned and literature and art are "corpse rotten" and have to be destroyed. There are no books to read and no history to remember. Only a consumer-producer society is acceptable, and anyone who deviates from this path is condemned, punished and forcibly re-educated. Enter Sutty Dass a young girl of East Indian descent who is desperate to hold onto the past whilst living in the future. On the plant Aka as an official observer she gets the chance to see the past as it used to be, in fragments so tantalizingly small you can only get a taste of what used to be. But Sutty is an intelligent young woman and she realizes very quickly that the old ways are not as dead as the technology-controlled government would like to believe and an underground system of "telling" the past has sprung up in order for people to remember what once was. What starts as a job of work for Sutty, becomes a spiritual quest for redemption in the guise of story telling and mystical encounters. Sutty herself is being reborn from the flames of the past, as her name implies, as Suttee means death by fire for widows and Sutty is a widow of sorts. We find ourselves gently drawn into this illicit world of Guru's, mystics and ancient wise ones, whilst looking over our shoulders for the ever-present danger of Government Monitors whose task it is stamp on everything to do with the past. We are eventually led to a hidden library high in the Aka mountains and it is here that Sutty learns the true meaning of the past and how she as an outsider can help redress the balance for those who hanker for the old days, and those who fear the loss of technology.Read more ›
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"The Telling," like Le Guin's 1972 novella "The World for Word is Forest," is much more about our own world than the world it explores.
Here, a lesbian woman of East Indian descent, Sutty, signs on to be an ambassador for the Hainish Ekumen (the Hainish originally seeded human life on all the member planets) when her lover is killed by fundamentalist terrorists on earth.
But in transit, relativity plays a cruel trick on her: In the 60 years she's been traveling in a Nearly-As-Fast-As-Light starship, the planet Aka has adopted a severe, technophilic society not unlike that of Maoist China. Indeed, the Corporation State has done its best to eradicate its previous culture, a Tao-like, creedless system of wisdom known as "The Telling."
Sutty eventually travels to a distant, mountainous place where people secretly maintain their old system, and there she discovers how her own planet Terra may have catalyzed the culture-destroying changes.
As in Le Guin's 1969 classic, "The Left Hand of Darkness," the protagonist enters the society hoping to learn, and eventually undertakes a journey, this time deep into the heart of the high mountains. Here, the village of Ozkat-Ozkat is sharply reminiscent of Chinese-occupied Tibet.
Le Guin is brilliant at this sort of thing, and while the story is quite simple and takes a while to catch fire, the denouement is moving, engaging and illuminating. I still think she has a penchant for somewhat cold and distant, even a bit sterile, characters, but that detracts only a bit from this tale.
It's not as adventurous as "Left Hand," not as detailed in its world-building as "The Dispossessed," and lacking the action of "...
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Carter on November 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
I came to review this, even though I got my copy before the book's original publication, because I've been teaching *A Fisherman of the Inland Sea* this morning and watched it fall flat. Since it's one of my favorite stories in the world, that stung; and it made me remember how the reviews here stung, a year or so back, and want to defend Le Guin, if not to my students (being defensive is the kiss of death to teaching) then to someone.
So: *The Telling*. Some of the critiques here are fair; there is, perhaps appropriately, more telling than showing, and the "spare" language characteristic of Le Guin is sparer than ever. That the moral, or anyway one of the morals, that trashing Tao in favor of Mao wasn't too smart, is very clear is also true. I'm not sure why or whether that's an inherently bad thing; but there are less evident "morals" too. That the "evil" new culture isn't actually evil is one of them; the problem was that no one knew what that culture expected of the Ekumen. The motif of "footsteps on the air", the mourning for the value we all throw away, is a major issue, more major even than the capital-M moral that Tao is Good. Or how about the idea that knowledge and stories have inherent value, and that it's not degrading to bargain for them and pay for them? If we took that "moral" to heart from *The Telling*, maybe our teachers and nannies and daycare providers--yes, and writers--would be paid as much as the people who build strip malls and destroy the world.
But (here's the defense) I certainly can't agree that we know nothing about the characters; on the contrary, we learn a great deal about the central character, Sutty, from deft handling of remarkably succinct evidence. How, someone asks, does Sutty feel about sex?
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