Ursula K. Le Guin had been on my list of ‘to be read authors’ for quite some time. And then the news of her death came and I decided not to postpone reading one of her novels any longer.
I took Leigh Bardugo recommendation to start with The Left Hand of Darkness. I had no idea what the book was about and for at least the first quarter I didn’t know where the book was going.
It warns at the beginning that it’s like a report and that there is more than one storyteller. And still the use of two first-person narrators confused me for a while.
But slowly the story enthralled me. I was a bit of a mess after I finished reading. It’s the type of book that makes you stare numbly out of a window afterwards. I forgive the slow and difficult start as the rest was superb. And yet, when I think of this book, a deep sense of melancholy settles on me.
The frozen landscapes of the Planet Gethen set a harsh environment for a race of people very different from us, but still very human. There are so many powerful themes in this book. Friendship, isolation, politics, gender, hope and loyalty. One of them being: How would you treat a stranger from another world if they came to your planet?
I use the word beautiful too much, but I want to mention what a beautiful character Estraven is. It’s wonderful to see a character being so gentle, but strong at the same time. The whole book is full of contradictions that go together. Some variants of the cover literally has the yin-yang symbol on it.
I’m being a bit vague. I know. Why don’t I discuss the characters, the elaborate world building and their strange social etiquette more? I went in to this book with no prior knowledge. If you haven’t read this book yet, then I don’t want to give any spoilers.
I see why Ursula is so respected. This is a powerful book. Deep and complex. “Next level stuff.” Science fiction is often underestimated. I have also falling in the trap of not taking the genre as seriously as it deserves. I’m sad that I did not encounter Le Quin’s books earlier, but perhaps I would not have be able to appreciate them then.
Can I be over-dramatic and say this book has now been carved into my soul? That’s a bit too much, but that’s the kind of pathos The Left Hand of Darkness inspires.