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The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle) Mass Market Paperback – October 20, 1994
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“This novel, by a celebrated Hungarian poet, depicts the world of his childhood…The narrator, a young boy whose family is shunned-it was once wealthy and is suspected of being Jewish-endures beatings, hunger, and taunts with the fatalism of someone who has never known anything else.” (New Yorker)
From the Back Cover
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. he will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
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This book is a must read. It also includes an english professor's reading guide at 94% that includes a brief synopsis of the social situation at the time the novel was written to help explain why the author wrote the book the way she did and then poses thought provoking questions about each chapter. I suggest that you read this guide first and then read each chapter and try to answer the questions in the reading guide and repeat until you have completed the novel. Reading the book in this way will be a far more moving and enjoyable experience.
- Ursula K. Le Guin, (1929-2018)
The world lost an amazing woman earlier this week. I was introduced to her work late, really only this past year as I worked through a self-guided course of utopian literature through the ages, and I have yet to explore it fully. And yet, the sense of loss is there all the same--the feeling that world lost a voice it needed, whether it knew it or not.
Reading Le Guin's writings, and talking with a friend who knew her personally, I'm reasonably sure we wouldn't have agreed on a great deal. And yet her writings reveal a powerfully perceptive and self-aware individual, with a talent for cutting to the quick of humanity.
"The Dispossessed" puts Le Guin's powers on full display, creating a story that manages to be remarkably honest in its take on utopia. It is, after all, an "ambiguous" utopia, and the ambiguity lies at the heart of Le Guin's approach, highlighting the ills of both the societies she describes in her work--ills that don't seem all that far removed from the world we live in ourselves.
And at its core is the premise of the quote above--that undying belief in the solidity of "coming home." It is my hope that Ursula K. Le Guin is now herself "home." Rest in peace.
This book chronicles the related people of twin planets, one previously colonized by settlers from the other. The narrative vividly contrasts various types of social organization and behavior, including freedom (and the lack of it), government (and the lack of it), mutual cooperation and competition, and so forth. While the differences seem stark at first, the subtleties become more apparent as more is revealed. It not only entertains but forces the reader to think about alternate ways of living that have been dismissed or not considered before.
The story is delivered mostly from the view of the protagonist, from two different periods in his life. The movement back and forth from his earlier life to his later life helps with a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the tale. The timelines come together eventually, of course, but the beauty of the book is in the wholeness of the telling.
The author occasionally creates words, or at least they appear to be created as they are new to me and not in dictionaries or wikipedia, but these created words have meanings that are obvious. They add to the beautiful fabric of the chronicle.
The book jacket summarizes the story well. This Ursula Le Guin novel is a tale of a utopian society, and the characters that struggle to keep it a utopia. It is a multi-layered novel. I think readers have and will get different messages depending on their circumstances. Its story is certainly relevant to what's occurring in politics today. Highly recommended.