book reviews by Althea

The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin *****

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The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-reading for book club! (August 2015)

I first read this book in middle school, and was blown away by it. It introduced so many new (to me) ideas – brilliant ideas! – but then, rather than just presenting those ideas as a utopia, did everything it could to explore them further, and to explore their flaws and weaknesses.

I was very proud that I got my teacher that year to include this book on our summer reading list, so that everyone else would have to read it too. 🙂

Of course, re-reading after so long, I wasn’t sure how it would hold up. You can see I still have 5 stars up there, though…

When I was a pre-teen, I remember thinking that the book felt very ‘adult.’ This time, I was more impressed at how LeGuin actually manages to deeply explore profound and complex ideas through simple, elegant language that just about anyone, of any age, can understand.

And – this is a book of ideas. That’s the one aspect of the novel that I could see being used as a valid complaint about the book. However, I didn’t feel that the characters fell by the wayside. Although they might be there, at times, to illustrate certain points, they still feel like fully realized people, who think, act, and feel in believable ways.

This is, of course, the story of Shevek, a remarkably brilliant physicist (and an excellent example of a character who is much smarter than average, and who behaves and thinks in such a way as to demonstrate that, rather than the much-more-common occurrence where we’re supposed to believe that someone is talented or smart because the author tells us so.) Shevek was born on Anarres, a colony world started as a social experiment, following the philosophy of the radical communo-anarchist Odo. 170 years later, after hardly any contact with the home world of Urras, rumors persist about the oppressive decadence of the ‘propertarians’ of the home world, Urras.
However, Shevek, a bit of a misfit in his own society, is invited to visit Urras. Through the book, we see their capitalist society and contrast its pros and cons with those of Annares.

As a kicker, we also get to glimpse a hint of what things are like not only on Urras and Anarres, but here on Earth, as well as among the Hainish: there are not only two social possibilities.

An admission: when I first read this, I identified more strongly with Shevek and Takver. This time, I had far more sympathy and understanding for Vea – as, perhaps, most people in the West would.

Essays and books could be written (and have been) about the ideas contained in ‘The Dispossessed’ – I’ve not going to do an analysis here.

But I will say; I still think this is a book that everyone should read.

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