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The Telling

by Ursula K LeGuin

(North America: Ace, 2001. US$13.95 / Canada$19.99 trade paperback, 246 pages.
UK: Gollancz, £9.99, 264 pages, trade paperback; hardback also available, £16.99; first published 2000, these editions 30 October 2001. Mass market paperback £5.99, published 17 October 2002.)

cover scan - US editionThree stars.

What do you do when people won't let you do your job? Won't let you be who and what you are? Won't let you pursue the dream that led you across the dark sea of space?

Sutty is a linguist in a world that has recently murdered its own language, a historian in a culture that condemns history. What she seeks is the Telling, the lost lore now banned and largely obliterated by the current regime. But it's not all gone yet ... not quite. She manages to get outside the dominant culture, slip through the cracks into a region where the old ways still linger in hidden places. Tiptoe through history, then; study a language in veiled hints and hooded whispers. What is the Telling, anyway? History, philosophy, religion, entertainment, education? It's a little of everything, and not quite like anything; and it's still Sutty's job to explain cover scan - UK editionthe whole thing to her superiors. Preferably before the ruling powers find out what she's up to and destroy the remaining fragments.

I'm not a huge fan of thrillers, suspense stories, or mysteries. But this book is a fascinating puzzle of language and culture -- and for someone as attached to books as I am, the plot tension is absolutely hair-raising. The threat of wiping out the entire lore and language of a people stirs me in ways that no amount of galactic warfare or magical mayhem can do. I'm not even a major fan of Ursula K. LeGuin; I tend to find her writing style too spare for my tastes. I couldn't put this book down, though, and every so often I'd stumble across a phrase of truly arresting beauty. The tree imagery woven throughout the story is particularly impressive, and sure to intrigue followers of nature religions.

The Telling is a must-read for xenolinguists and LeGuin fans. Anyone who enjoys sociological science fiction should give it a look too. Recommended.

Review by Elizabeth Barrette.

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