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The Telling cover The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin

Published by Harcourt Brace

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Ursula K Le Guin's latest novel of the Ekumen is a story of mirror-image worlds. Terra has come under the sway of the Unists, a militant monotheistic religion that burns libraries and kills people to destroy ideas it deems heretical. Sutty's Hindu family hid in fear throughout her childhood to avoid forced conversion. When she became an adult, the woman she loved was slain in a terrorist attack by Unist fanatics.

Sutty went to the world of Aka believing that she would find an easy-going society where her lesbianism was no matter for remark. But while her spaceship travelled at relativistic speeds, a horrible change overtook Aka. She found it in the hands of rationalists every bit as fanatical as the religious fundamentalism under which she grew up. All elements of the old belief system deemed incompatible with the March to the Stars have been banned, with harsh penalties for those who would try to preserve the past. Whole libraries full of priceless books have been brutally razed. And Terran humanity may well have been responsible for this travesty of progress, through an ill-considered act of generosity.

But the old ways refuse to die so easily, as Sutty discovers when she is permitted to leave the tightly-controlled confines of the capital and visit a provincial city. There a few brave souls preserve the old ways in secret. As Sutty wins their trust, they introduce her to the path they call the Telling. Rather like Taoism in pre-Revolutionary China, it is a way without creed or doctrine, in which the stories that are shared serve to illuminate the truth rather than reveal or define it.

But in the very act of seeking out the Telling, Sutty may well have betrayed it. She is being pursued by a believer, a fanatic who is determined that Aka's ruling Corporation is right because he cannot bear to accept that those he loved were wrongly killed.

Can Sutty find a way to preserve this wealth of knowledge and attone for her people's error, before it is too late?

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Review posted December 15, 2000

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