Thursday, August 31, 2006

Voices - Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin's Voices is the sequel to Gifts, which I reviewed in December.

In the year in which 17 year old Memer was born, a foreign army overthrew her city's elected government, declaring the written word demonic, and destroying every book it could find. Memer is what is commonly known as a "siege-brat", her mother was raped by one of the invading Ald soldiers and she was born as a consequence of the rape. Her mother died some years later, and her home town is still "a broken city of ruins, hunger, and fear"; Memer dreams of taking revenge one day. When the story opens, the possession of books is still an offence punishable by death, and Memer and her crippled mentor the Waylord (who was tortured by the Alds), are the protectors of a hidden library and the intermediaries of an oracle hidden deep within the library. At the invitation of the head of the occupying forces, Orrec Caspro, the poet and storyteller, and his wife Gry Barre, the caller of animals (whom we met in Gifts and who are several years older now) visit the city of Ansul; their arrival, and in particular Orrec's storytelling and poetry recitations combine to start bringing about the end of the occupation by the book-hating Alds. Memer's extended family is also brought into renewed prominence, and Memer discovers that she, like her mother before her, is the Reader of the Oracle.

This book is filled with some thought-provoking parallels to our own world and is a surprisingly political tale which cleverly shows some of the pragmatic reasons why a war might end, such as growing personal connections between an occupying army and the local populace, the dimming of religious fervour within an invading nation, the expense of maintaining a distant garrison, changes in leadership both in the local garrison and the distant homeland, and the recognition by two parties of shared economic goals which are better served by cooperation than by oppression. Whilst Le Guin's prose is as simple and unadorned as ever, her narrative voice and storytelling power make even the smallest moments ring with truth, and even with beauty.

Gifts and Voices are both available in the US.


Unknown said...

Hi Michele,

I just wanted you to know that I recommended your blog for Blogday:

Happy Blogday!


Michele said...

Thanks very much for that Sheila - I hadn't even heard of Blogday before !

Lee said...

I must read this one. I'm a LeGuin fan of old.

Michele said...

I highly recommend the new series - it's excellent - as Le Guin usually is...