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The Telling [Hardcover]

Ursula K. Le Guin (Author)
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)




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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

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: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #181,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Ursula K. Le Guin
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Customer Reviews

52 Reviews
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4 star:
 (8)
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2 star:
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Average Customer Review
3.3 out of 5 stars (52 customer reviews)
 
 
 
 
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful:
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome return to Ekumen in novel form, September 5, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Telling (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 "...World is Forest," but it's still a thoughtful, entertaining read.

"The Telling" is a meditation on cultural decimation, fundamentalism, colonialism and even gay rights, Earthly issues, that just happens to be played out on a distant world.



31 of 35 people found the following review helpful:
2.0 out of 5 stars A Weak Novel By The Great Ursula K. Leguin, September 18, 2000
This review is from: The Telling (Hardcover)
Although there are many beautiful passages in The Telling, there are some surprising and catastrophic weaknesses in this novel by Ursula Leguin. The principal weakeness of the work is the one-dimensionality both of the Corporation-State of Aka and the religion of the Telling which it has surpressed. Aka is B-A-D, the consumer, totalitarian, homophobic result of intervention by an evil, theocratic government on Earth. The religion of the Telling is G-O-O-D, gentle, yoga-practicing, process oriented and panentheistic. LeGuin is consistently concerned with nuance and tint in her portraits of alien societies, I was surprised at the tiny, tiny pallet with which she constructed Aka.

In addition to the basic cliched nature of the conflict in Akan society, LeGuin surprisingly has the Telling's plot turn on the classic cliched character that has gone bad as a result of a single and overwhelming childhood familial trauma. It may be cliched because it's true, but I can always rent Marnie or watch Lifetime if I need a dose.

It's hard to not recommend a novel by LeGuin because her prose style can be breath-taking, so buy the novel if you are a LeGuin junkie or have the money to burn.

But, difficult as it is, I suggest waiting until the Telling comes out in paperback or skipping it all together. To enjoy her writing without being distracted by the weakness and cliche, there's always the chance to re-read the Dispossesed, the Left Hand of Darkness, Always Coming Home, or Searoad.



26 of 29 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vibrant Literary Experience, November 11, 2001
This review is from: The Telling (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. A vibrant book, filled with laughter and tears, and a host of characters who are larger than life and totally memorable. This is a novel for those readers who like a book to get their teeth into, a novel, which makes them think and wonder, and then think so more. An excellent and understated read that deserves six stars out of five in my opinion.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Saying exactly as she means
This is a beautiful book.

It will reward anyone able to give it just what it exemplifies and asks: a noticing attention.
Published 6 months ago by Roald Olos

3.0 out of 5 stars Le Guin's lyrical depiction of an "incoherent, fragmented" society
Like many of Le Guin's novels, "The Telling" begins in media res; for readers unfamiliar with the various Hainish books (or who, like me, might need a refresher course), the...
Published on November 3, 2008 by D. Cloyce Smith

4.0 out of 5 stars an exploration of censorship and oppression
The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin is a lovely little science fiction novel. Sutty (born in India and raised in Canada) decides to become a researcher and leave the Earth of her...
Published on June 28, 2007 by duchess

3.0 out of 5 stars I'm Not Sure What To Think
Ursula K. LeGuin is my favorite author, but I have to admit that this book dissapointed me just a little bit.
Published on December 28, 2006 by Nicole Stephens

5.0 out of 5 stars I am SHOCKED at the bad reviews.
This is an outstanding book, and it brings up very real and very important issues. I think that this is one of Ursula K.
Published on July 12, 2006

5.0 out of 5 stars puzzled by the response to this book
I am somewhat puzzled by the lukewarm responses by many readers to this book. I absolutely loved it; Le Guin has many intelligent things to say about the processes of cultural...
Published on December 20, 2005 by Conner C. Mullally

4.0 out of 5 stars Contemplative look at religion and oppression
After the terribly botched fourth installment of her Earthsea books, I thought maybe she had lost it and was hesitant to check out her recent work. My fear was not founded.
Published on August 12, 2005 by Eric San Juan

1.0 out of 5 stars A different Le Guin, and not for the better....
I am a huge fan of several of Le Guin's earlier works, especially the Earthsea Trilogy, and many of her other "early" sci-fi/fanstasy works.
Published on April 21, 2005 by janet doe

3.0 out of 5 stars Solid Book Deserves a Read
I'll admit my bias for being a very big Le Guin fan. I just really enjoy her imagination and style; especially her Taoist and anthropological influences.
Published on January 29, 2005 by C. A Fraser

3.0 out of 5 stars A mediocre book from a great author
Sutty leaves Earth to become an Observer on the planet Aka. Once there, she is disillusioned by the dystopian society that has done away with the planet's rich history.
Published on November 15, 2004 by gac1003

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Inside This Book (learn more)
First Sentence:
WHEN SUTTY WENT back to Earth in the daytime, it was always to the village. Read the first page
Key Phrases - Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs): (learn more)
maz couple, barrow man, bean meal
Key Phrases - Capitalized Phrases (CAPs): (learn more)
Dovza City, Corporation State, Uncle Hurree, Lap of Silong, Odiedin Manma, Sotyu Ang, Maz Elyed, The Arbor, First Observers, Golden Mountain, Maz Ottiar Uming, Penan Teran, Unist Fathers, Maz Uming, Advanced Exercises, Eastern Isles, Holy Wars, Observer of the Ekumen
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