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Four Ways to Forgiveness cover Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published by Orion Publishing Group

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Although this recent offering by Ursula K Le Guin is technically a collection, since each of the four component novellas has been separately published in periodicals, they all work together to tell a larger story. Thus they form a sort of novel, bringing us the story of the struggle for freedom on the sister worlds of Werel and Yeowe.

On Werel the dominant dark skinned Voe Deo have enslaved their lighter-skinned neighbors, creating a brutal caste system. At the same time their patriarchial society has created a parallel system of oppression between the genders, with the result that slave women become the slaves of slaves.

The arrival of Hainish agents threw the society into turmoil. In a flurry of activity they sent rockets to nearby Yeowe and colonized it with mass importations of slaves to operate its mines and plantations. A brutal society grew up there, and in time engendered an equally brutal revolution to cast off their chains and send the hated masters fleeing.

But violence has a way of turning the former victims into oppressors in their own turn. This is no idealized story of heroes, but a clear-eyed look at the consequences of institutionalized brutality on an entire society, even after it tries to put the ugly past behind it. Each of the major characters must deal with the corrosion of the conscience and warping of the perceptions that results.

Yoss the Yeowean elder who thought to improve her own soul finds a reflection of her own self-deception in the disgraced boss Abberkam. Solly the space brat struggles to retain herself in a society that will not allow her to be both a woman and an independent agent. Havzhiva the historian from ancient Hain itself learns the new culture forming itself as former slaves take freedom for themselves, but keep their women under the very bonds they cast off. Rakam the slave discovers that freedom cannot be given as a gift, only won through toil and sacrifice.

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Review posted December 15, 2000

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