Thursday, June 28, 2012

Biittner's Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This month's book club pick was one of my own. I selected it for two reasons: first, it was on my "501 must read books" list, and second, I have been wanting to read something by Le Guin for some time now. Ursula Kroeber Le Guin is the daughter of Alfred Kroeber, the first person to receive a PhD in anthropology in the U.S. and the founder of Berkeley's Department of Anthropology.To me this meant that anthropology-related themes like culture contact/conflict would be significant parts of her books/narratives. I was not disappointed. 

I really enjoyed "The Left Hand of Darkness". The world, Winter, in which this novel takes place is fascinating, and made even more so in that for the majority of the story we only get to see it through the eyes of an outsider, Genly the envoy to Winter. In what I will call the second half of the novel, we get to see Genly through the eyes of Estraven, a "traitor". The relationship of Genly and Estraven is complex, and so delicately and artfully constructed by Le Guin. The complexity comes not just from each trying to understand the nuances of each other's cultural norms but also from a basic biological difference - the people of Winter are androgynous, only becoming male or female during a period of mating called kemmer. Le Guin, therefore, constructed a unique way of dealing with the gender/sex issues; rather than having a typical "boy meets girl" scenario, we are faced with characters trying to negotiate a complex interpersonal relationship where sex is seemingly off the table. 

I would highly recommend this book. It has a great story with interesting and complex characters. The descriptions of the various peoples and Winter are so detailed and vivid. I will definitely be reading more of Le Guin's work. 

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