Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed is a murmuring tale whose circular, interwoven structure echoes Shevek’s paradigm-shifting research into temporal physics while examining the moral consequences of two interlocked societies, one capitalist, the other communist.

The setting is the twin worlds of Urras and Anarres, each of which looms in the sky as the other’s moon; a symbolical relationship. Urras, a land of abundant resources and beauty, is the homeworld. Anarres, in contrast, is a dry, geographically dull, inhospitable place whose people work hard to survive.

Shevek is a brilliant theoretical physicist born on Anarres, which was colonized by the followers of Odo who abandoned Urras many centuries ago to found their own revolutionary anarchic society on Anarres. The reader is initially perplexed by the structure of the book, which alternates chapters form Shevek’s early life with chapters from his later life, written as if they were happening in the present time, telling parallel stories of this one man’s origins and later development. After a few such chapters the reader grasps the format and climbs happily onboard, and soon glimpses the rationale for this structure, as Shevek lays the mathematical groundwork for understanding the non-linearity of time, and thus proving the feasibility of time travel. His intellectual passion leads him toward political heresy in both Anarres, and later, Urras. Finally, he performs the first act in bringing Urras and Anarres together, collapsing their distance as his tale arrives full circle, at his simultaneous departure and arrival.