Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A friend loaned me Urusula Le Guin's Voices recently. I picked it up over the weekend and finished it in just a couple of days. As soon as I'd read the first chapter, I knew I was going to read it straight through in a relatively short time, and that feeling of being firmly in the grip of a good story didn't let up. It's been a while since I last read a Le Guin novel (at least 3-4 years), and I'd almost forgotten how good she can be.

Voices is a book about healing, and about being broken. It is both profound and moving. If ever there has been a tale to make me believe the pen is mightier than the sword, this is it. Never have I seen diplomacy presented in such active terms, making the tale seem action-packed, even though there is surprisingly little fighting in it. The violence we see is not romanticized into some heroic act, but presented in the stark realities of the suffering inflicted by violent acts — suffering that can damage generation after generation, if allowed.

Here are a couple of things to whet the appetite, quoting from the book:

"I'm sorry, now, for that girl of fifteen who wasn't as brave as the child of six, although she longed as much as ever for courage, strength, power against what she feared. Fear breeds silence, and then the silence breeds fear, and I let it rule me. Even there, in that room, the only place in the world where I knew who I was, I wouldn't let myself guess who I might become." (page 32)

"I get along with animals and they get along with me. The gift is called calling, but it's more like hearing, actually." (page 73)

"'Heathen,' they called us. A word we learned from them. If it meant anything, it meant people who don't know what's sacred. Are there any such people? 'Heathen' is merely a word for somebody who knows a different sacredness than you know." (page 126)

"We've sung your poem 'Liberty' for ten years now here in Ansul, in hiding, behind doors. How did that song get here, who brought it? From voice to voice, from soul to soul, from land to land. When we sing it aloud at last, in the face of the enemy, do you think you'll be silent?" (page 169)

"Love of country, or honor, or freedom, then, may be names that give that pleasure to justify it to the gods and to the people who suffer and kill and die in the game. So those words — love, honor, freedom — are degraded from their true sense. The people may come to hold them in contempt as meaningless, and poets must struggle to give them back their truth." (page 296)

There's plenty more like that — moving passages couched in the middle of a good story. I'll just quote these few parts, though, and hopefully that will be enough to let the book jump out and begin to work its magic on you too.

After all, what could I say about the book that would better recommend it than that it overflows with lines like these?

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