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Lavinia Paperback – April 10, 2009
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"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is."—Margaret Atwood
"Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own."—Boston Globe
'There is no writer with an imagination as forceful and delicate as Le Guin's."—Grace Paley
About the Author
URSULA K. LE GUIN was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929, and passed away in Portland, Oregon, in 2018. She published over sixty books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature, and translation. She was the recipient of a National Book Award, six Hugo and five Nebula awards, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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This is what Le Guin chose to do with what she may well have known was going to be her last novel. She took an important-but-minor character from Virgil's AENEID (query: as opposed to some other AENEID?) and told her story. Specifically, the woman fated to be Aeneas's wife and the ancestress of Romulus and Remus.
Told in her own voice, the story begins with Lavinia sighting the arrival at Latium of the ships bearing Aeneas and the remnants of his Trojan survivors. It moves backwards to her childhood; tells the final episodes of the AENEID from her point of view, then describes her life with Aeneas and after. I won't summarize beyond that.
Wolves, as if to foreshadow Romulus and Remus, play a recurring role in Lavinia's life. So do gods, shades, and oracles. (She knows from one such that she will have Aeneas only three years before he dies.)
Lavinia is a fascinating character, very much the daughter of her wise father and her mad mother. Her voice is vivid and clear, and explains just enough to make the story vivid and clear without bogging down in exposition.
I want to write more, but I can't. The book is too powerful, too emotionally powerful, for me to speak rationally of.
So much for my preface. Having recently been re-exposed to LeGuin's work, I was favorably disposed to her when I noticed that she had a new novel out. I bought it without even reading the blurb, and started reading it without knowing anything about it, and started to love it before I realized it was telling the story of the Aeneid from a different perspective. If you read the Aeneid in college, you will no doubt recall the story, but LeGuin's retelling of the tale has a power that the poem doesn't -- perhaps because as prose it's more accessible to (most) modern readers -- and I enjoyed reading it much more than I remember enjoying reading Virgil in translation.
On balance, I think LeGuin has been unfairly pigeon-holed as a writer of children's tales and a niche writer of fantasy. She's much more of a myth-maker, a modern story-spinner in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm, and her work has an ease and grace that perhaps deceives people into thinking it's not really literature. It is -- it undeniably is. This is simply a great book.