- Hardcover: 341 pages
- Publisher: Easton Press; Early Reprint edition (1986)
- ASIN: B00158DNHS
- Package Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Customer Reviews:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#1,384,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #75894 in Literary Fiction (Books)
The Dispossessed Hardcover – 1986
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This book is a must read. It also includes an english professor's reading guide at 94% that includes a brief synopsis of the social situation at the time the novel was written to help explain why the author wrote the book the way she did and then poses thought provoking questions about each chapter. I suggest that you read this guide first and then read each chapter and try to answer the questions in the reading guide and repeat until you have completed the novel. Reading the book in this way will be a far more moving and enjoyable experience.
I never thought I'd say this about one of her novels or stories.
One of my favorite novels of any genre. Tackles all the right questions. Challenges all political schools of thought, institutions of science, morality, industry. Does so fairly and develops compelling characters. Finds meaning in the meaningless suffering, on the level of a Dostoyevsky novel, compares favorably to The Idiot especially. A powerful message without ever preaching. Especially if you're interested in physics, this is a great book to read. If you're new to science fiction or have no interest in physics, this is a great place to start, being one of the most underrated classics.
This book chronicles the related people of twin planets, one previously colonized by settlers from the other. The narrative vividly contrasts various types of social organization and behavior, including freedom (and the lack of it), government (and the lack of it), mutual cooperation and competition, and so forth. While the differences seem stark at first, the subtleties become more apparent as more is revealed. It not only entertains but forces the reader to think about alternate ways of living that have been dismissed or not considered before.
The story is delivered mostly from the view of the protagonist, from two different periods in his life. The movement back and forth from his earlier life to his later life helps with a deeper understanding of the intricacies of the tale. The timelines come together eventually, of course, but the beauty of the book is in the wholeness of the telling.
The author occasionally creates words, or at least they appear to be created as they are new to me and not in dictionaries or wikipedia, but these created words have meanings that are obvious. They add to the beautiful fabric of the chronicle.
The book jacket summarizes the story well. This Ursula Le Guin novel is a tale of a utopian society, and the characters that struggle to keep it a utopia. It is a multi-layered novel. I think readers have and will get different messages depending on their circumstances. Its story is certainly relevant to what's occurring in politics today. Highly recommended.
Top international reviews
The problem with many of these so-called master works is that their vision is utterly out of date. Maybe in 1974 readers were surprised by the portrayal of humanoids in alien societies, and the casual imagining of other social and political systems. But films like Logan's Run, Star Wars, Blade Runner and Total Recall all set new standards and the best SF creation since has maintained the principle that you have to have a special world and you have to have a good story inside it. So, into the trash it goes and press Eject.
Briefly putting this novel: it focuses more on character development of the protagonist & his interactions with societies and side characters. This is definitely not a plot-driven novel.
There is no antagonist, actually, the legal environment and culture is just a restriction & frustration.
I really like this novel & considerate a classic in my collection just based on the fact that it's so diverse from the others, that its more about the character & his struggles/triumphs rather than the plot.
NOTHING HAPPENS throughout the whole thing.
So if you want to read for political / societal insight, it's probably a 5* book. But if you want to be entertained or read an interesting story, it's more like a 1* book... Hence the 2*.
The book explores how a system of pure anarchism where there are no laws, no property and no crimes would work. How it would maintain itself, and whether that system is truly more free. Can the people of that society really live any more freely or are they still bound just as strongly by the social conventions, peer pressure and influence of individuals.
The main character is the first person to leave the anarchist world in 200 years or so, a scientist who's work is being "softly" suppressed under the anarchist society (fearful of the destabilising effect) is invited to the quasi-capitalist main world that his anarchist colony has left behind with the hope that his breakthrough will give faster than light communication (the ansible).
There is some contrast with the alternate society he visits but it hard to see this as an attempt to draw a parallel between this and say modern capitalism as it seems to be some sort of oligarchical society and is not fully explored. More this provides some contrast for the main character to be able to reflect on his own anarchist world.
The story is told between alternating past and present chapters, telling his life story on the anarchist world in tandem with his visit to the capitalist world.
It is beautifully written and while an optimistic portrayal of the anarchist society in many ways it is a realistic one. For me the idea that the society members can murder without any official sanction (as more or less occurs near the start) is deeply disturbing and this alone makes me struggle to see this as an argument for anarchism.
Apart from anarchism vs capitalism, it touches on time & reality, conservation & exploitation, parental love and spite, how much humans need animals, creativity and the arts, and the senescence of societies. No wonder some reviewers find it dense, slow or difficult to read! Fpr a slim book it is packed tight with intellectual meat. There is, as previous reviewers have pointed out, little action: but when there is action, and violence, it is abrupt and shocking, as it is in real life.
The book is sombre, but not hopeless. The ending is masterly, like the ray of sunlight that bursts through the heavy cloud as the sun is just setting. Wonderful.
The Dispossessed is widely considered to be one of Ursula Le Guin's finest novels and is arguably her most ambitious work. The book asks nothing less than how best should human society function and by what means. Le Guin picks two popular models, that of a semi-communist state and a capitalist one, and pits them against one another. She is not interested in 'proving' the values of one over the other, instead comparing and contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of both and also the affect they have on the individual, particularly on the individual who has a great, transformational idea but whom is seen by others purely as a pawn or something to be crushed.
The novel relies on this thematic idea to sustain it, but the actual plot structure is also intriguing. The book alternates chapters between the present-day storyline (Shevek on Urras) and events in his past (Shevek growing up on Anarres). We see the present-day Shevek as being an open-minded, questioning individual and how he has changed from his earlier incarnation as a blinkered man who accepts dogmatic ideas as fact (such as the notion that Urras is a corrupt capitalist state that will one day destroy itself), with later Anarres chapter depicting his shift in belief and motivation. Le Guin constantly has Shevek developing as a character even as she develops her ideas and the setting of the two worlds.
The novel's greatest strength is its depiction of someone who seeks simple answers and is instead rewarded with having his worldview broadened and made more complicated. Shevek sees Urras as the answer to all his problems but instead of the utopia he was hoping for he finds a cluster of nations all feuding with one another (at one point fighting a Vietnam-style proxy war between two superpowers with the rulers acknowledging that nothing will change, only thousands dying for no real goal). Anarres is not rose-painted either: the world is desolate, the people poor and, for all of their freedom of choice, are often forced into jobs and roles they despise and are not well suited-for. The book is sometimes criticised for condemning capitalism and promoting communism/anarchism, but it's more complex than that. Le Guin's argument appears to be that all human societies are prone to dysfunction and corruption, no matter how well-meaning people are.
The novel's ending is intriguing, as Shevek's conflicted views are commented upon by an outsider (an ambassador from an Earth ruined by war and ecological disaster) and her analysis spurs him to reconsider his approach. However, the book somewhat abruptly ends before Shevek's return to Anarres with him not having reached a conclusion. This is presumably because any answer would be unsatisfying and simplistic. Instead we are left with the questions, which are far more interesting.
The Dispossessed (*****) is a thought-provoking novel that does not attempt to simplify complex matters and combines fascinating worldbuilding and character development with a refreshing plot structure and some rich prose. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
The Earthsea books are very story driven, particularly the early books, and 'The Dispossessed' is very much a character/social story. Very little happens from beginning to end, the book being largely strings of conversations or flashbacks, but every chapter builds upon a growing tension and provides more depth to the characters and the worlds they inhabit.
This novel I'm sure achieves everything the very intelligent Le Guin set out to do - a brilliant accomplishment in literature and anthropology. Considering that most of her characters are males from other planets, this female 'Terran' knows them inside and out.
I'll be reading more of her sci-fi, if anyone can recommend another? I hear 'The Left Hand of Darkness' is exceptional.
I would rate this higher if more happened throughout, story-wise - that's not to diminish some of the great story elements (most of which happen in the flashbacks, annoyingly) that are already in here.
8.5 / 10
Author of 'Half Discovered Wings'
It's politically themed, thought provoking and well written. It isn't a 'heavy' scifi, so I'd recommend it to people who don't often read this genera.