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209 of 214 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Politics and corruption on two contrasting worlds, May 30, 2003
This review is from: The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle) (Mass Market Paperback)
"The Dispossessed" is a utopian/dystopian novel along the lines of "Brave New World" or "The Handmaid's Tale." Although Le Guin creates an atmosphere of tension, there's not a lot of action (at least for the first three quarters of the book)--so readers expecting more "traditional" science fiction or surprising plot twists will certainly be dissatisfied. This unashamedly political novel portrays one character torn between two worlds with disparate political and economic systems, and it focuses on the highlights and the inadequacies of both those worlds.

Shevek, an unappreciated scientist from Anarres, travels to Urras, whose inhabitants seem to value better his discoveries in physics. Annares, the home of the "Dispossessed," is a 175-year-old rebel outpost of anarchists who have established "an experiment in nonauthoritarian communism" that emphasizes community and cooperation and who must make the most of the limited resources on their desert planet to avert the constant threat of starvation. Anarres's mother planet, Urras, boasts a triumvirate of strong and repressive governments, the most important of which is the capitalist government of A-Io with its impressive wealth, cultural accomplishments, and scientific achievements.

But all is not what it seems on either world. Le Guin alternates chapters detailing Shevek's early years of disenchantment on his lawless but peaceful native planet with chapters describing his growing realization that Urras has a significant "dispossessed" population as well. The novel is, of course, deeply informed by the Cold War--it was published in 1974--and each world features its own "ambiguous utopia" (the book's subtitle). The anarchists of Anarres have diluted their revolutionary vision with mindless and dogmatic conformism, discouragement of artistic pursuits and dissenting ideas, and an entrenched and uncaring bureaucracy that acts like a government in all but name. The capitalists of Urras, meanwhile, have traded libertarianism and meritocracy for a repressive oligarchy and the armed reinforcement of widespread economic disparities. As the novel progresses, Shevek appreciates that there is much to be learned from both (or rather, all) worlds.

Some readers and critics have suggested that Le Guin is "promoting" anarchism/communism; this is too simplistic, since the book is far too subtle and tentative to work as propaganda. Instead, she posits an attractive and idealistic society, contrasts it with a world with an appealing facade and an unattractive underclass, and shows how human nature tends to corrupt even the most well-meaning of civilizations. A book of ideas rather than of advocacy, "The Dispossessed" challenges readers to envision humankind's limitless possibilities.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 16, 2011 3:01:51 PM PDT
hey you says:
It's Shevek, not Shevak.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 16, 2011 6:35:07 PM PDT
Thanks! Fixed it--eight years later. :-(
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