Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed
Ursula K. LeGuin

Shevek is brilliant young physicist working on a theory that will allow instantaneous space travel (teleportation!). He's also an Odonian, part of a socialist anarchist society living on the harsh moon of his peoples' home planet. But moneyless settlers fighting dust and famine for survival are not overly interested in teleportation. For the sake of his research and to bridge the gulf between the society they left and the one they created, Shev takes an unprescedented journey to earth, hoping to tear down walls and trade his theory for mutual cooperation and freedom.

Woven into Shev's experiences with earth technology, style, customs, and depravity are chapters about his youth, family, culture, and the events which led to leaving his home. LeGuin's descriptions are creative and compelling, and the characters are memorable, but the best part of this book is seeing the world through the eyes of an outsider.

The childlike simplicity and trust that Shevek has, his expectation that people will do right by each other and his surprise at being cheated and manipulated harkens to the stories fondly told of Soviet times. "See, Soviet people were very kind to each other, and did not expect to be cheated. It was easy to scam them, because they didn't even think of such a thing." "In Soviet times, people helped each other, shared what they had with their neighbors. It was a community." Even so, this is not a romantic anarchist utopia; LeGuin does not sugar coat the harshness and flaws of the Odonian society. We are left with a startling picture of what happens when people focus on one aspect of human nature and stretch it into encompassing morality.

I am afraid that if I keep writing, I'll degenerate into rambling. But first, I have one last thing to say: I really want Shev's teleportation technology.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Anil's Ghost

Anil's Ghost
Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's stories have the feeling of a sepia photograph; they're rich, real, and yet hallowed by lack of color. His prose lives in sparse details. A water drop falls from a leaf, a woman sighs, a headlight blinks a man into consciousness for a second. The world turns. Evil in chaos, scientists and artists struggling to create. Risking their next moment in a sepia photograph to show up in truth.

He haunts me, flashes of a ghost barely not seen. And yet the story is very solid, gritty, terrible and beautiful and full of soil as well as soul. Anil's Ghost is a mystery, a mystery about government killings in Sri Lanka, a mystery about an unsual skeleton, a mystery of choices, conscience, and survival. It's about Anil, who left. Sarath, who retreated into cynicism and the archeology of ancient temple ruins. Gamini, who hides in drugs and twenty-hour shifts in the ER. And whether it is possible to do anything but survive in the face of constant murder and betrayal.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh, Dear

A two week long roaming vacation with one's brother all over the UK is fantastic for the soul, but not for reading. Particularly since we each had only a small backpack as luggage. And then work ate me. So.

I will do my best to review these books in the next couple of weeks...

January booklist:

To Swim Across the World, Francis and Ginger Park
*The Firstborn Advantage: Making your birth order work for you, Dr. Kevin Leman
*Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller
The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt
Anil's Ghost, Michael Ondaatje
*The Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin

*denotes a book I read for the first time