The Telling

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Telling. New York: Harcourt, 2000.

Book cover with a group of people in a cave, backlit with a bright light.

Sutty, an (Anglo-Indian and lesbian) ethnographer representing a peaceful interstellar confederation, travels to Aka to initiate diplomatic relations. Upon arrival, she discovers that the previously rich culture has become a repressive regime of corporate producer-consumers intent on technological progress. The government has destroyed the historical record, burned all the books, and banned all traditional cultural expression.

When she obtains permission to visit a rural village, though, Sutty sees evidence that traditional ways of life have not been completely stamped out. Slowly, she gains the trust of her new friends and learns about the deeply spiritual practice of storytelling that undergirds every aspect of life.

This beautiful, poignant novel is an exploration of capitalism, repressive government, and profound cultural resistance. Sexuality is also a theme: the government enforces compulsory heterosexuality, but queer identities are valued in the traditional society. Like many of Le Guin’s works, The Telling invites reflection of the reader’s beliefs and experiences, as well as the historical and contemporary political milieu.

The Telling won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2001.

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About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, Librarian, Legend Tripper, and Queer Activist
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