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Malafrena: A Library of America eBook Classic

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in a career spanning half a century, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a body of work that testifies to her abiding faith in the power and art of words. She is perhaps best known for imagining future intergalactic worlds in brilliant books that challenge our ideas of what is natural and inevitable in human relations—and that celebrate courage, endurance, risk-taking, and abov in a career spanning half a century, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a body of work that testifies to her abiding faith in the power and art of words. She is perhaps best known for imagining future intergalactic worlds in brilliant books that challenge our ideas of what is natural and inevitable in human relations—and that celebrate courage, endurance, risk-taking, and above all, freedom in the face of the psychological and social forces that lead to authoritarianism and fanaticism. it is less well known that she first developed these themes in richly imagined historical fiction, including the brilliant early novel Malafrena. An epic meditation on the meaning of hope and freedom, love and duty, Malafrena takes place from 1825 to 1830 in the imaginary East European country of Orsinia, then a part of the Austrian Empire, a nation which, like its near neighbors Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania, has a long and vivid history of oppression, art, and revolution. itale Sorde, the idealistic heir to Val Malafrena, an estate in the rural western provinces of Orsinia, leaves home against his father’s wishes to work as a journalist in the cosmopolitan capital city of Krasnoy, where he plays an integral part in the revolutionary politics that are roiling Europe. Complete with a newly researched chronology of Le Guin's life and career.


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in a career spanning half a century, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a body of work that testifies to her abiding faith in the power and art of words. She is perhaps best known for imagining future intergalactic worlds in brilliant books that challenge our ideas of what is natural and inevitable in human relations—and that celebrate courage, endurance, risk-taking, and abov in a career spanning half a century, Ursula K. Le Guin has produced a body of work that testifies to her abiding faith in the power and art of words. She is perhaps best known for imagining future intergalactic worlds in brilliant books that challenge our ideas of what is natural and inevitable in human relations—and that celebrate courage, endurance, risk-taking, and above all, freedom in the face of the psychological and social forces that lead to authoritarianism and fanaticism. it is less well known that she first developed these themes in richly imagined historical fiction, including the brilliant early novel Malafrena. An epic meditation on the meaning of hope and freedom, love and duty, Malafrena takes place from 1825 to 1830 in the imaginary East European country of Orsinia, then a part of the Austrian Empire, a nation which, like its near neighbors Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania, has a long and vivid history of oppression, art, and revolution. itale Sorde, the idealistic heir to Val Malafrena, an estate in the rural western provinces of Orsinia, leaves home against his father’s wishes to work as a journalist in the cosmopolitan capital city of Krasnoy, where he plays an integral part in the revolutionary politics that are roiling Europe. Complete with a newly researched chronology of Le Guin's life and career.

30 review for Malafrena: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    This has long been one of my all-time favorite books. The first time I read it it was a very slow read -- Le Guin's writing is so layered, full of subtlety, and this is a book that doesn't spoonfeed the ideas, but depends upon the reader to work out the themes. After the first time, I went back and read it again ... and again and again, each time with more enjoyment, yet each time finding something new. The language is lovely -- you just want to read passages out loud to hear the way she puts wo This has long been one of my all-time favorite books. The first time I read it it was a very slow read -- Le Guin's writing is so layered, full of subtlety, and this is a book that doesn't spoonfeed the ideas, but depends upon the reader to work out the themes. After the first time, I went back and read it again ... and again and again, each time with more enjoyment, yet each time finding something new. The language is lovely -- you just want to read passages out loud to hear the way she puts words together. It is a lovely, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful story about the meaning of home, and growing up and learning that good intentions and just causes don't guarantee that you'll win the day ... but that's no reason not to try.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I just reread the title story after a twenty year hiatus and am stunned. This book is a youthful masterpiece from a masterful writer. The language is sublime. The story, while measured and slow, unfolds purposefully. I see many reviewers have struggled with the book. It's not for someone who reads lightly, but rather for those who seek substantial literature. Le Guin puts us into the heads and hearts of her characters as fully realized human beings dealing with human situations. She creates a wo I just reread the title story after a twenty year hiatus and am stunned. This book is a youthful masterpiece from a masterful writer. The language is sublime. The story, while measured and slow, unfolds purposefully. I see many reviewers have struggled with the book. It's not for someone who reads lightly, but rather for those who seek substantial literature. Le Guin puts us into the heads and hearts of her characters as fully realized human beings dealing with human situations. She creates a world of perfect internal consistency and actually has something meaningful to say about the biggest moments of life. Her use of language and ability to be poetic without pretense, makes this a luscious and filling read. The Library of America honor a book long deserving such accolades.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    He would look unseeing out over Malafrena, with a heaviness in him. It was as if a spell was laid upon him here, which he could not break, though he might escape from it; a charm that grew strongest in certain hours, certain conversations. The spell that binds young Itale Sorde to the family estate in Val Malafrena holds the same charm for this reader: but the French revolutionary motto, Vivre libre, ou mourir ("Live free, or die"), offers sentiments which tug him away from his mountain home. His He would look unseeing out over Malafrena, with a heaviness in him. It was as if a spell was laid upon him here, which he could not break, though he might escape from it; a charm that grew strongest in certain hours, certain conversations. The spell that binds young Itale Sorde to the family estate in Val Malafrena holds the same charm for this reader: but the French revolutionary motto, Vivre libre, ou mourir ("Live free, or die"), offers sentiments which tug him away from his mountain home. His progressive idealistic impulses draw him to Krasnoy, the capital of Orsinia, leading him to a sequence of events which impact not only on himself but on family, friends and acquaintances. This restless, roving novel developed from the author's early forays into writing fiction, fired up by her reading of Russian literature; it has proved to divide opinion, from those who expect something either more radical or in her later more speculative style, to those who relish her way with language and her ability to create a believable alternative reality and credible individuals. Myself, I fall into the second category and one doesn't have to go very far to find the reasons. This alternative reality is vested in Orsinia, a country nested -- as if a component in a Russian doll -- somewhere within the Austrian Empire in the late 1820s. Revolutionary fervour remains in the air even as hegemonies try to tamp down any suspicion of rebellion. The touchstone which imparted to many French revolutionaries their zeal was the phrase Vivre libre, ou mourir! and this is precisely the motto that inspires Itale and other students at Solariy University to instigate subversive activities, and an up-and-coming poet Amadey Estenskar hailing from Polana province in southeast Orsinia. Hopes are further raised by rumours that the Estates General -- in abeyance since a Hapsburg duchess became nominal head of state -- may be reconvened and thus signal a return to a constitutional monarchy. In expectation of being in the midst of the febrile atmosphere Itale becomes, as it were, an exile from Malafrena, the family estate in the eastern province of Montayna, and travels to Krasnoy. The question is, will the rallying cry, Live free or die, determine the direction his own life will ultimately take? Originally entitled The Necessary Passion (now the name of one of the seven parts the novel is divided into), Malafrena is not just the chronicle of one apparently jejune graduate, though in fact everything and everyone can be tracked back to him. We hear much about friends, colleagues and extended family, seeing through their eyes as well as his and witnessing both humdrum happenings and momentous events. We learn about the provincial lives of the Sorde family, their close neighbours the Valtorskars and relatives in nearby Portacheyka; we observe the straits of the disadvantaged and the dispossessed in the capital and in the mills of the eastern province. Also in evidence are Itale's journalist associates from the journal Novesma Verba, his friends in the nobility, and intellectuals such as the poet Estenskar and novelist Givan Karantay, all of whom form a web of connections that draws the suspicions of the Austrian authorities: remember, the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 were designed so that the Empire could contain and even eradicate any likelihood of dissent. Le Guin's first choice of "the necessary passion" as a title for the novel relates, I think, to all forms of human feelings and emotions -- political, sexual, and familial -- and how Itale applies them according to belief, inclination and personal stamina. In Malafrena he felt bespelled with a certain heaviness that he's compelled to escape. He tells his childhood friend Piera that "Life's not a room, it's a road; what you leave you leave, and it's lost. You can't turn back. That's how it is." Amadey the poet confirms this viewpoint, describing a dream: "I saw my own life -- behind me and ahead of me. As if it were a road." This is one way to view the novel, it seems; if some Orsinians see themselves as on a road where there's no turning back, what happens when they run out of energy and impetus, fall prey to exhaustion, come up against impassable barriers and lose the necessary passion to continue? Youthful ambitions such as Amadey's vincam (meaning "I shall conquer!") are, even if carved into stone, all too soon eroded by seasons and weather. This sense of melancholy seems to be one which Le Guin absorbed from her reading of Russian fiction. I've only read some of this literature -- some Chekhov short stories, for example, and Dostoyevsky's House of the Dead -- but I detect the same atmosphere in Le Guin's novel, the feeling that individuals setting themselves up against an oppressive system may not have it as easy as David against Goliath. When Itale's family hear he has been imprisoned for sedition his lawyer uncle attributes this moment of enlightenment which comes to Itale's father: That injustice could be institutionalised under the name of law, that inhumanity could embody and perpetuate itself in the form of armed men and locked doors, this he knew but did not believe, had not believed, until now. Itale's friend Piera comes to realise this part of realpolitik, reflecting that "The builder of the prisonhouse, the sneakthief, the weakener, the enemy, was fear. There was no way to serve fear and be free." In actuality Le Guin's epic is not simply about the ripples caused by one young wouldbe progressive idealist and his coterie: it's also about the women Itale associates with, females who, as with many women of the time, had circumscribed existences but somehow still managed to make an impact. For instance there's his sister Laura who, though at one stage learns to understand what the phrase "borne down" may signify, attempts to forge a function for herself on the Malafrena estate; there's also Piera who like Itale has to leave her Valtorsa estate to discover whether it indeed is no longer 'home' or not. We mustn't forget either Baroness Luisa Paludeskar, who arranges Itale's release from prison and nurses him back to health, displaying a political nous that does her justice, but at what cost? There's so much else to delight the attentive reader in Malafrena, such as le Guin's descriptions of weather, and nature, and landscapes: for example the incident of an owl that "flew in front of them from one oak to another, hunting, soft as a tossed ball of dark wool in the dusk." I like the occasional quiet joke, as in this little dialogue which punctuates -- though not quite puncturing -- a scene which follows momentous incidents of potential import: He glanced at his friend and said, with his hands in his pockets, smiling irrepressibly, 'Do you believe in God, Francesco?' -- 'Of course. Don't you?' -- No. Thank God!' Ultimately, in a novel about an imaginary land, the shoreless kingdom of the poet Estenskar which Le Guin brought into being in default of experiencing Europe herself, this vast wide-ranging narrative is about home. Where does it stand? Is it a place, or is it a phantom of the mind? For five years he had been sick for home, and now, forced to it as a fugitive, he must come to it knowing that he had no home. Far from being a novel of dashed hopes and tragic consequences for me Malafrena is a work which fills my heart to bursting: filled with players who would like to effect change in a time of tumult, they seem to reflect our own hopes and visions; it is a land not unlike our own, in a time which in so many ways closely matches the one we live in now.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    Despite Le Guin's elegant writing, not really my cup of tea. Despite Le Guin's elegant writing, not really my cup of tea.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pandora Elinor

    This book was the hardest of all of Le Guin's for me to read. It was just a permanent emotional wringer. I feel like I need to rest and recover after reading it, it drained me completely. First of all, as usual, Le Guin's writing is exquisite and so evocative (although in this one I've noticed her favourite word is "pale"). It's very dreamlike and atmospheric, with this somewhat idealised, almost quaint vision of a past society that is complete unto itself, fully functional, like a well oiled mac This book was the hardest of all of Le Guin's for me to read. It was just a permanent emotional wringer. I feel like I need to rest and recover after reading it, it drained me completely. First of all, as usual, Le Guin's writing is exquisite and so evocative (although in this one I've noticed her favourite word is "pale"). It's very dreamlike and atmospheric, with this somewhat idealised, almost quaint vision of a past society that is complete unto itself, fully functional, like a well oiled machine. And the descriptions of human relationships, social hierarchy and interactions are fascinating and complex. The characterisation is masterful, as ever, these people are so fully realised. She has a very shrewd observation of the unformed, vague feelings of a young woman growing up in a benevolent but rigid patriarchy, and how she comes into her own. I loved Piera. Her parts were the ones I read with the most pleasure. I would have loved to have her as a friend. Itale was fascinating, he is charismatic and sincere and draws everyone to himself, even the reader. But he is so privileged, he is entirely unaware of the immensity of his selfishness and the harm he does to those who love him, and how much he will lose through his rash, romantic decisions. He has good intentions and his heart is in the right place, but that doesn't excuse how unaware he is of his own self-importance. This made it very hard reading his parts because I was constantly disturbed by the fact that I thought he was making huge mistakes and messing his life up. It's very difficult to stomach reading about this silly, childish fool damaging himself and the people he loves, with complete self-righteousness. In the end though, I am fond of him, much as his family is. Aware of his faults, but loving him anyway. He does inspire that. I also really didn't like Luisa. She was even more selfish than Itale, even more privileged, arrogant and snobbish, devoid of any empathy or other qualities. She was manipulative, twisted and jaded. Itale's relationship with her was sterile and toxic. It was horrible to read about, these two people who were no good for each other, I couldn't wait for it to be over. The only good thing I can say for her was that (view spoiler)[ she got him out of prison, although it was for all the wrong reasons and she could have no compassion for him. It was as if she was a tool of her own passions and illusions, unwittingly helping Itale despite herself. Still I'm glad it happened and that he escaped her clutches. Good luck to poor old George Helleskar, that's a miserable life ahead. (hide spoiler)] This is a bit of a depressing book about depressed people. Everyone is so angsty. I like how these people think, and analyse their thoughts, feelings, their lives. It reminds me of one of my friends' mindsets. But too much of this is heavy, and drags one down. My friend has an optimism this book lacks, to compensate. Here, there is none of Le Guin's usual warmth in the connection between people, and I missed it badly. They are all so lonely. It made it hard to read for me because with my overempathy I suck up all the feelings of misery, loneliness, emptiness, uncertainty, the pointlessness of it all, their pain and suffering, the waste. I frequently needed a break or I became too affected by it. In a way I'm glad it's not the story of a glorious hero, because he would have done too much damage around him for it to be worth it. But it's tragic that instead it's the story of a naive, idealistic young man being broken by a totalitarian regime, his dreams ground to dust under the weight of that huge, impersonal machinery. It really is a tragedy, this book. Unlike all her others I've read, where there was some meaning, some point to it all. There is so much loss here. The ending is faintly hopeful, it ends as well as it could. It's better than I was expecting in some ways, worse in others. So. This book feels very literary, it's extremely well written, the characters jump off the page. The only part that's fantasy about it is that the country it's set in, Orsinia, is made up. But it's a hard read. Le Guin said it was inspired by Russian literature. I've never read Russian literature, but if you can stomach it, or want to read some beautiful, intelligent writing, then give this a try. Only if your emotions are ironclad or you have a masochistic streak, though.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The cover screams adventure story. Reviewers have called it her “dryest” story. The first few chapters suggest dark academia with a lot of talk of revolution while sitting down and eating cheese. What this Ursula K. Leguin novel is: a love story stiffled by a bigger, nobler, and tragically, pointless dream. Itale Sorde is young, rich and leaving home. He is renouncing his inheritance and running away to write about the factories and everything wrong in his country. But while his revolution takes The cover screams adventure story. Reviewers have called it her “dryest” story. The first few chapters suggest dark academia with a lot of talk of revolution while sitting down and eating cheese. What this Ursula K. Leguin novel is: a love story stiffled by a bigger, nobler, and tragically, pointless dream. Itale Sorde is young, rich and leaving home. He is renouncing his inheritance and running away to write about the factories and everything wrong in his country. But while his revolution takes up most of the pages of the novel, this is not a story of political intrigue. The exact conditions of the workers are scarcely depicted. Nor are we introduced to any high up opposing figures. There are no intricate strategizing scenes or big battles. It's all grand sweeping statements of Us versus Them in the name Liberty and Freedom as they lounge in coffee houses and dissect a book by a fellow visonary. An armchair revolution. The real story is the one left out. Itale's unexpressed feelings for his childhood friend, Piera. Her tears he mistakes for wind in her eyes. The Countess she knows to be his mistress without her ever having to say it. Excuse me for being a girl, but Malafrena is a romance. An unromance, if you will. Page 343, second to last page, after all the cheese and talk of politics and being emprisoned and engaged to the wrong person and not expressing their feelings to one another, the confession: “I should like to be your friend.” “You are,” he said almost inaudibly; but his heart said, your are my house, my home; the journey and the journey's end; my care, and sleep after care. That's it. The closest we get to a romance. An unspoken declaration. Quiet as a heartbeat. Then, they're interrupted and it's a regular afternoon again, “Have an apple, your face is purple,” and off they go somewhere, and the novel ends there. “Why write a romance about an unromantic people?” coyly asks Le Guin through one of her characters. If the characters are unfeeling, if nothing happens, if no one's says anything to one another, it makes the heartbreak all the more felt. Because it is not, cannot, be said. Only betrayed in gestures. Just like Tehanu is a quiet novel about domestic life in a world of heroes, Malafrena is a love story in a world that has no time for sentiment. And so, I can't help but appreciate the infuriating emotions the ending creates. The tone of the story has been leading up to it all along. I especially like the aesthetics of how it 'fades out' in banal dialogue. A day in a life. But by God, life is short. Piera and Itale's story ran out of pages. Read this as warning not to take matters of the heart so spinelessly! My favourite line: “How can I turn my back on all the rest?” “The rest?” “The darkness,” Piera said, looking up from her work. “Air. Space. The wind, the night. I don’t know how to say it, Laura! The things you can’t trust, the things that are too big for you, that don’t care about you. I am just learning what that is and what I am, and I can’t leave it, give it up, not yet!” If you like realistic stories set in make-believe countries, you might also like Last Letters From Hav. My blog

  7. 5 out of 5

    Myra Beatrice

    This book will stay with me for a long time, and I honestly think that I will re-read it at some point (which I don’t normally do). If you are like me, then I would not want you to go another day without reading Malafrena. If you are not like me, then perhaps you would find it dull or slow, or not to your taste for some other reason. I will try to put down my thoughts on this incredible work, with a view of helping those like me to go and begin reading without delay, and helping those unlike me This book will stay with me for a long time, and I honestly think that I will re-read it at some point (which I don’t normally do). If you are like me, then I would not want you to go another day without reading Malafrena. If you are not like me, then perhaps you would find it dull or slow, or not to your taste for some other reason. I will try to put down my thoughts on this incredible work, with a view of helping those like me to go and begin reading without delay, and helping those unlike me to save their time by not beginning it. First of all, if you have read other works by Le Guin and know that you love her writing style and that it draws you in like nothing else, then go for it; this book will blow your mind and give you so much to ponder and enjoy, as it did for me. The storyline weaves through the life of a provincial gentleman and his acquaintances as he decides to leave home for the city to pursue social reform. He is an enthusiastic young man and has many grand visions for how the world could be made a better place, and how freedom for his country could be attained. The staggering aspects of this book don’t lie in the storyline so much, though, as in the questions pondered by the characters as they live their lives. Le Guin shows you their actions and musings, and lets you decide for yourself about each topic along with the characters. One of my pet peeves in books is when the author doesn’t take the old advice “show, don’t tell”, and Le Guin is wonderful in this work at not trying to tell you what to think. Her characters develop and change their own minds about important aspects of life as they live, just as we do in ‘real’ life. The story, just like life, is a rollercoaster (in a 'one day melds in to the next, even while everything is changing' kind of way), and by the end I was attached to this world in a way that I hadn’t truly been for any book in a long time. If you are someone who enjoys books that draw you in and make you think, then go for it. I also love how Le Guin is so raw with the physical strain which oppresses her characters at times. Unlike some authors, whose characters will get injured and then heal miraculously or mope over them forever (often making me wonder whether their authors have even bothered to think about what real people would do in those situations), Le Guin’s characters are all too human with their injuries, their pain and pushing through it, and the lasting nature of mental struggles. If you are someone who doesn’t like stories that make you think, if you prefer stories that focus entirely on love triangles (and whose characters don’t seem to have anything more important to do with their lives than base their every decision on one of those love triangles), then go find a book like that; if that is what you like, don’t read this one. I have not done justice to this epic tale in this review, but I’ve tried to take out some key points. Personally, I absolutely love Le Guin’s writing style, and I sincerely hope that if you choose to read this work, you will get as much out of it as I did.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ben Wright

    Usually, Ursula K. Le Guin embeds her powerful philosophy deep in her prose, allowing a reader to turn a sentence over and discover its hidden powers at their own pace. Malafrena is different. This novel is dense with dialectical dialogue and complex, ever-evolving characters. Considering this was one Le Guin’s earliest pieces of writing, in ways, its difficult prose feels like an unrefined element of her style. Although Malafrena was completed and published after The Dispossessed, (which is per Usually, Ursula K. Le Guin embeds her powerful philosophy deep in her prose, allowing a reader to turn a sentence over and discover its hidden powers at their own pace. Malafrena is different. This novel is dense with dialectical dialogue and complex, ever-evolving characters. Considering this was one Le Guin’s earliest pieces of writing, in ways, its difficult prose feels like an unrefined element of her style. Although Malafrena was completed and published after The Dispossessed, (which is perhaps why we also see some of Le Guin’s masterful later-style strung through the text), a significant portion of Malafrena was written long before her work on The Dispossessed began. This is interesting because, as the author herself notes, the plots are basically identical. This does not detract from either work but makes them interesting to consider together. In fact, my five-star rating is based mostly on my interest in comparing the two pieces and reading Malafrena as insight into Le Guin’s early writing process - in general and on Dispossessed in particular. To stay honest, I will highlight two interesting distinctions between the two texts: 1. Whereas The Dispossessed is science-fiction, set off-world in the distant future, Malafrena is set in the early 1800s in a fictional country (Orsinia) in Europe, allowing European history to influence the story. 2. The Dispossessed is powered by Russian, left-Marxist, anarchist theories (source: Le Guin’s introduction to “The Day Before the Revolution”), but the politics of Malafrena are informed by classical revolutionary French liberalism. That’s all. Long live Matiyas!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I don't know what I think about this book. I've had it for years but never tried to read it until recently, which is odd since UKL is one of my very favorite writers. I think perhaps I don't yet "get" this one. It was hard for me to get into. The characters weren't compelling for me. Rather than quit reading, I decided to skip over chunks of it to see if it pulled me in later on, then I could go back and fill in the blank spots once it had my interest. Only it never really captured my interest. I don't know what I think about this book. I've had it for years but never tried to read it until recently, which is odd since UKL is one of my very favorite writers. I think perhaps I don't yet "get" this one. It was hard for me to get into. The characters weren't compelling for me. Rather than quit reading, I decided to skip over chunks of it to see if it pulled me in later on, then I could go back and fill in the blank spots once it had my interest. Only it never really captured my interest. Other people, it seems, find it their very favorite of all her books. So I'm convinced something important and good is there, but I just don't know how to see it yet. Another book of hers I didn't respond to much was The Dispossessed, which other people I've talked to have passionately loved. And there are some similarities between these two books, I think. They're both basically about worldsaving, idealism, activitism, people trying to shape their societies to be more amenable or conducive to whatever it is that the human heart craves and needs most: Freedom, maybe, or perhaps Justice, or maybe just a true Community of living souls. They involve power and how it's used to control or restrict others, how it's experienced by different members of a community. I think this is a really important subject, and I can't at all put my finger on why the protagonists of either story never stirred my emotions and got me involved in their troubles. That's a kind of magical thing that good authors do, get you to care about what happens to the characters, and it often happens right away, on the very first page or two of a novel. But I haven't heard many ideas of how exactly it's done. Somehow, though UKL's characters nearly always do grab me, in this book they never did. I skipped rather large chunks two or three times, and never got to the part that made me care. I know when I first read the Earthsea trilogy (as it was then), my very first books by UKL, I went all the way through without getting them. I then talked about them with my brother who had recommended them to me, and realized I had totally wrong expectations from the start. He was so adamant that the series was extremely good that I read it again and that time it got me. I think the whole series is great and have read it many times since. So, for The Dispossessed and now Malafrena, are they just awaiting another read through before they yield to me this delicious fruit that other readers talk about? Or do they just not have the power to speak to me, by some quirk or other of who I am? Risk another read? Yes or no? You guys decide for me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Milewski

    Malefrena (1979) by Ursula LeGuin took me almost 40 years to complete. I began reading it as a school kid when I saw it in the fantasy section, because LeGuin was a fantasy author. The book did not belong there. I read it expecting fantasy to happen at any moment, but the book never got around to any fantasy because the book was actually a pastoral set in the early 1800's, after the time of Napoleon. There was no way that young me would have gotten through it and had any idea what to make it of. Malefrena (1979) by Ursula LeGuin took me almost 40 years to complete. I began reading it as a school kid when I saw it in the fantasy section, because LeGuin was a fantasy author. The book did not belong there. I read it expecting fantasy to happen at any moment, but the book never got around to any fantasy because the book was actually a pastoral set in the early 1800's, after the time of Napoleon. There was no way that young me would have gotten through it and had any idea what to make it of. One does not just happen to read Malafrena. One chooses to read this book. I dogged through this book, one or two chapters a night, for an entire month, having read as much as I could take, for I sought to read all the words and not merely skim through. The book concerns itself with several characters, but primarily Sorde, and sometimes Piera. Each goes about their lives in a country occupied by the Austrio-Hungary Empire in a part of Europe where industrialization has yet to happen. The tale of Sorde is one of politics, from idealism to defeat, from dreams to pragmatism. Like all good pastorals, it begins with our protagonist leaving home for the city, and ends with his return to his country home. Between there is fortune, politics, romance, heartache, rising and falling circumstances, and a few footsteps of history. What is the book about? Humanity in this time and in this place. While LeGuin often seems cold to me, the style of a pastoral offsets her usual sterility, necessitating an examination of the winds of human emotion. The people here are more human than icons or archetypes. They each struggle against the systems that they are trapped in, the men against the politics, and the women against their situations. Where is there to go in a system when there is nowhere to go? I can't say that this is a book that you should or ought to read. It's not that sort of book. I think that it's worth reading, but I'm not sure that it's worth it for you. If you enjoy LeGuin, then you should definitely give this a shot, but if you've never read a difficult book, then this is not a good book to start with.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lory Widmer Hess

    Reviews and more on my blog: Entering the Enchanted Castle I was never interested in Orsinia when I read Le Guin as a kid. I bought Orsinian Tales thinking it would be more Earthsea or The Wind's Twelve Quarters and put it aside, baffled and bored by the lack of magic or spaceships. But now it strikes me as one of her most impressive works, utterly immersive and not at all fantastic, except in being about an imaginary country. The characters live, within their vividly described setting, the langu Reviews and more on my blog: Entering the Enchanted Castle I was never interested in Orsinia when I read Le Guin as a kid. I bought Orsinian Tales thinking it would be more Earthsea or The Wind's Twelve Quarters and put it aside, baffled and bored by the lack of magic or spaceships. But now it strikes me as one of her most impressive works, utterly immersive and not at all fantastic, except in being about an imaginary country. The characters live, within their vividly described setting, the language is beautiful, subtle and oblique, the thoughts about love and freedom as as relevant now as in the 1825 of the story. So glad I finally read this and I'll definitely be reading the Tales as well.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    Brilliant and beautiful. Orsinian Tales is perhaps my favorite book, and this is more in that vein, but much more, and much heavier. It resonated with me because it asks all the same questions I've asked. I was disappointed that it didn't offer any answers--but perhaps there aren't any to be had. It's deliberately paced, but absolutely full of powerful ideas and compelling characters. Sad, because it tells the truth about the world rather than distracting us from it. I've always felt that there wa Brilliant and beautiful. Orsinian Tales is perhaps my favorite book, and this is more in that vein, but much more, and much heavier. It resonated with me because it asks all the same questions I've asked. I was disappointed that it didn't offer any answers--but perhaps there aren't any to be had. It's deliberately paced, but absolutely full of powerful ideas and compelling characters. Sad, because it tells the truth about the world rather than distracting us from it. I've always felt that there was something missing in Le Guin's books: that they reached for greatness and fell short by a hands-breadth. With these books, she made it. Read it, but read Orsinian Tales first.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Deniz Altuntas

    I was surprised how close to "real" this book was. It was so familiar that I didn't have the awe for the little creative details, which I normally love in Ursula Le Guin's books. Still, I read it non-stop. After all, it is Ursula Le Guin.. :) I was surprised how close to "real" this book was. It was so familiar that I didn't have the awe for the little creative details, which I normally love in Ursula Le Guin's books. Still, I read it non-stop. After all, it is Ursula Le Guin.. :)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    A well written book in which lots of events occur but still remains unexciting. I'll stick to LeGuin's sci-fi from now on. A well written book in which lots of events occur but still remains unexciting. I'll stick to LeGuin's sci-fi from now on.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katherine B.

    An epic fantasy novel? Nope. A romance novel? Nope. A philosophical thing? Yup. This came in a sci-fi/fantasy bundle I got a year ago, and yet, all it was were a couple of young people in the 19th century making bad choices (and the couple I wanted to end up together didn't end up together. I mean, they might eventually, but knowing them, they never will). An epic fantasy novel? Nope. A romance novel? Nope. A philosophical thing? Yup. This came in a sci-fi/fantasy bundle I got a year ago, and yet, all it was were a couple of young people in the 19th century making bad choices (and the couple I wanted to end up together didn't end up together. I mean, they might eventually, but knowing them, they never will).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sean Guynes

    definitely won't reread this definitely won't reread this

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lewis

    This book made me want to live in a small castle in the mountains where I could read great novels like this one. A great coming of age story wrapped in a grand narrative.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I first read Ursula le Guin when I was very young, and devoured the Earthsea quartet, before adding the fifth book later on. However, I tried reading some of her other work, and just didnt get into it. Now though, Im in my 30s, and I picked this up on a whim. I would never have enjoyed this in my teens or 20s, but it is a quiet epic. The characters are all fleshed out and human, and they are all full of quiet foibles and failings. There isn't a happy ending, and nor is there a great tragedy. Its I first read Ursula le Guin when I was very young, and devoured the Earthsea quartet, before adding the fifth book later on. However, I tried reading some of her other work, and just didnt get into it. Now though, Im in my 30s, and I picked this up on a whim. I would never have enjoyed this in my teens or 20s, but it is a quiet epic. The characters are all fleshed out and human, and they are all full of quiet foibles and failings. There isn't a happy ending, and nor is there a great tragedy. Its just a tale of people living, and the quiet triumphs and small failings of these people. I thought it was wonderful. Its come at a time in my life when I was ready for it, and while it was not a page turner, the language was vivid and colourful, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. And its made me think! I really cared about the characters, none of whom were cartoonish. This could have easily been a true story. The ending was a mild irritation, but probably because I wanted a sappy happy ending. And it was a happy ending, just not the one I expected! Would I recommend it? No. I wouldnt have enjoyed it even in my mid-20s. Maybe I felt some reflections in it, having been involved in a political campaign, felt defeat, moved far away from home, or maybe Im just getting old. But if you've come from Earthsea, you'll recognise the quiet heroes, and the strong female characters who quietly question what it means to be a woman, and what is a woman's place in the world. But that's all you'll recognise! This isn't a fantasy novel, as another reviewer said, this is more like historical fiction. However, I will say this, I signed up to goodreads to post this review. I never had any desire to review a book before!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alejandra

    Very unique book from Ursula K. Le Guin. Beautiful writing to be savored. The story here is set in an imaginary European country under Austrian control in the first half or the 19th century. While the country is imaginary, the novel is written as if it was real, with many references to contemporary events in other parts of Europe. Orsinia starts as a place filled with hope after the revolution in France, with eerie shadows of totalitarian regimes to come. Itale Sorde, the main character, is an i Very unique book from Ursula K. Le Guin. Beautiful writing to be savored. The story here is set in an imaginary European country under Austrian control in the first half or the 19th century. While the country is imaginary, the novel is written as if it was real, with many references to contemporary events in other parts of Europe. Orsinia starts as a place filled with hope after the revolution in France, with eerie shadows of totalitarian regimes to come. Itale Sorde, the main character, is an idealistic young man that sets out into the world to write about freedom. The path his character goes through reminded me a lot of Pyotr from "War and Peace". While Itale is out and about, his sister Laura and his childhool friend Piera (who reminded me of Tenar from "Tehanu") stay behind, seeking freedom their own way. The focus on the story is on Itale's journey, but my favorite sections were those featuring Laura and Piera. (view spoiler)[Some sections of the book made me quite angry. Why are there so few choices for the women here? While historically correct, it is still infuriating. One particular scene where Italo describes 22-year old Piera as too worn out to account for much is heart wrenching. The subtle ending merited multiple reads. (hide spoiler)]

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Bergman

    Early in her career, Ursula Le Guin wanted to write a grand tale of Europe, in the vein of Tolstoy or Hugo. But she'd never actually been there. This would have been no problem for most people, but Le Guin, being the insane genius that she was, decided to create her own country instead. Reading Malafrena, you would be forgiven for thinking Orsinia was in fact a real place. Le Guin goes to incredible lengths to make it believable. She nestled it in eastern Europe, gave it ties to Austrian and Fre Early in her career, Ursula Le Guin wanted to write a grand tale of Europe, in the vein of Tolstoy or Hugo. But she'd never actually been there. This would have been no problem for most people, but Le Guin, being the insane genius that she was, decided to create her own country instead. Reading Malafrena, you would be forgiven for thinking Orsinia was in fact a real place. Le Guin goes to incredible lengths to make it believable. She nestled it in eastern Europe, gave it ties to Austrian and French history, wrote songs and poetry and created a typically eastern European religion. Again, she made all this up. At some point, you have to think it would have been easier to just use the real thing, but she created her own, and it's remarkable. The novel itself is just okay. If you've ever read Russian literature, you've read this story before. Small town boy dreams of revolution, goes off to the big city. There's a little more to it than that, and Le Guin does an excellent job showing how the rest of the people in his life live, but not much more. It's a fairly restrained novel, all things considered. Not my favorite of her work, but I respect the crap out of it. Definitely glad I read it. Will need to read the rest of the Orsinian tales next.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    I must be in the minority, but I only made about half way through before I threw this one down. Very, very elegant languid language, but I couldn't figure out what was going on. I'm sure this is because it's subtle and layered, but I still want some sort of story. Too many strange surnames and placenames as well. The book is filled with names, like spilled jewels, only they are all crackerjack rings, not worth much. In the end, not one of my favorites. I must be in the minority, but I only made about half way through before I threw this one down. Very, very elegant languid language, but I couldn't figure out what was going on. I'm sure this is because it's subtle and layered, but I still want some sort of story. Too many strange surnames and placenames as well. The book is filled with names, like spilled jewels, only they are all crackerjack rings, not worth much. In the end, not one of my favorites.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Took me a little while (50 pages or so) to get into this book, but in the end I didn't want it to end. I loved how the characters changed through the book, were ambivalent and complex. I loved the setting, which felt like another character and initially kept me with the story. Le Guin is such a good writer. Took me a little while (50 pages or so) to get into this book, but in the end I didn't want it to end. I loved how the characters changed through the book, were ambivalent and complex. I loved the setting, which felt like another character and initially kept me with the story. Le Guin is such a good writer.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

    In a way this seemed like an expansion on the themes in the short story "The Lady of Moge" from Orsinian Tales. Though it's set at least a hundred years later, it involves the same wondering about women's positions and whether or not men and women can be friends — as well as many other things. In a way this seemed like an expansion on the themes in the short story "The Lady of Moge" from Orsinian Tales. Though it's set at least a hundred years later, it involves the same wondering about women's positions and whether or not men and women can be friends — as well as many other things.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sonja

    It was interesting to read this right after finishing Les Misérables and to kind of see how the events in France at the turn of the century would have affected other places - even though Orsinia is a fictional country, I found the plot very believable so that the events might as well have been real.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    An excellent read - much like a classic, but without the stuffiness of many 19th century novels. Set in continental Europe in the 1820's. An excellent read - much like a classic, but without the stuffiness of many 19th century novels. Set in continental Europe in the 1820's.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Big Lemons

    Le Guin doesn't write characters, she writes Human Beings. Orisinia is real. Le Guin doesn't write characters, she writes Human Beings. Orisinia is real.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    [Le Guin in 2020] The first drafts of the Orsinian stories are some of Ursula Le Guin's earliest works. She was beginning to write about Orsinia and Malafrena in the early 1950's. It would not be published until 1979. In the Introduction to this 2016 Edition by Le Guin, she reveals the relationship between Malafrena and The Dispossessed as literary siblings —she was working on both novels about the same time, cross-pollinating one with the other. Le Guin described Orsinia thus: "An unimportant coun [Le Guin in 2020] The first drafts of the Orsinian stories are some of Ursula Le Guin's earliest works. She was beginning to write about Orsinia and Malafrena in the early 1950's. It would not be published until 1979. In the Introduction to this 2016 Edition by Le Guin, she reveals the relationship between Malafrena and The Dispossessed as literary siblings —she was working on both novels about the same time, cross-pollinating one with the other. Le Guin described Orsinia thus: "An unimportant country of middle Europe. One of those Hitler had trashed and Stalin was now trashing. A land not too far from Czechoslovakia, or Poland, but let’s not worry about borders." "I began it in 1952. In various revisions it was called Malafrena or The Necessary Passion. It was about the generation in Europe that came of age in the 1820s and broke their hearts in the revolutions of 1830. The story follows Itale Sorde, a young man from a remote country estate called Val Malafrena. Itale and his companions Givan Frenin and Tomas Brelavay are students at the university in Solariy and are caught up in the revolutionary spirit of the times, inspired by the French revolution and their readings in clandestine publications. Against his father's counsel, Itale leaves home seeking an outlet and more fertile ground for his fervor in the capital city Krasnoy where he starts a newsletter and reports on the activities of the government. In Krasnoy, Itale collects a group of similar-minded friends including an older writer/poet Amadey Estenskar, and the Countess Luisa Valtorskar. Back in Val Malafrena, Itale's family and friends experience a variety of life-altering events in his absence. It now seemed to him that when Frenin had said, “I’m thinking of Krasnoy,” he had expected the words: they had to be said; they were inevitable. He would not go back and live out his life on the farm in the mountains. That was no longer possible. He knew every foot of the earth there, every act of the day’s work, every soul, knew them as he knew his own body and soul. Of the city he knew nothing. The prose is extremely complex with some incredibly long passages and lavish descriptions. The worldbuilding is exceptional, a completely fictional yet believable country is created as well as a story that connects with actual historical events in early 19th century Europe. This is the most evocative work by Le Guin that I've experienced; numerous scenes were intensely heartwarming, or heartbreaking. The text includes songs, poems, essays, as well as copious footnotes to explain references to historical, literary, and cultural events and allusions. He turned back to the year 1790 and began reading steadily. He held the French Revolution in his hands. He read the speech in which the orator called down the wrath of the people on the house of privilege, the speech that ended, “Vivre libre, ou mourir!”—Live free, or die. Malafrena is nothing like the twenty-odd other novels by Le Guin which I have read. The subject matter of this historical-style novel isn't what I generally prefer, which made it hard to hold my interest. However I'm glad to have read it and recognize that Le Guin put a lot of effort and skill into its creation. It is the most involved, mature, and complicated novel by Le Guin that I have encountered thus far. I was a little dissatisfied with the ending which I feel didn't have enough dramatic and cathartic weight. I wish that Le Guin had given us more of a conclusion. Out of these choked alleys shot up the fragile towers of old churches; from the noisy crowding at a ragged street-market one came suddenly into a silent square, to a covered fountain brimming with cool water and typhoid fever, and looked up to see on one hand the cathedral spires, on the other the pointed windows of the university on its hill, another world. Now that I have read both Malafrena and Orsinian Tales, I think that Malafrena should be read first to give the Tales more context. I will probably come back to Malafrena for a reread at some point as I think some details might be better appreciated the second time around. Reading this was a unique experience that I will not soon forget. “I was a fool before I—before that. Now I’m wise, now I know what a fool I was, right? But what use is wisdom, what good is it, when the price of it is hope?”

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jie Hui

    What is freedom? Is freedom the same for everyone, men and women? Is freedom worth fighting for? Is a just cause worth fighting for even though you might be defeated? How to keep hoping when you experience defeat? How can one live on knowing what they gave their passion and life for was a lost cause? How do you come home after leaving it? What is home? There are a lot of themes in this very realistic novel set in an imaginary European country, Orsinia, in the 1800, running along the same timeline What is freedom? Is freedom the same for everyone, men and women? Is freedom worth fighting for? Is a just cause worth fighting for even though you might be defeated? How to keep hoping when you experience defeat? How can one live on knowing what they gave their passion and life for was a lost cause? How do you come home after leaving it? What is home? There are a lot of themes in this very realistic novel set in an imaginary European country, Orsinia, in the 1800, running along the same timeline as the French Revolution. The story follows Itale Sorde, who left his homeland and inheritance to property, to use words to fight for freedom and independence of Orsinia, which was under the colonization of Austrian Empire. He started out full of hope and energy, and became an influencial figure among the young radicals. But knowing only the good, he did not see the evil power built into the system and laws that were supposed to protect the people. Other than Itale, Malafrena also follows the young women, Piera, Laura and Baroness Luisa, how each of them struggled against the system that did not recognize the importance and freedom of a woman. But to what cost? What kind of freedom a woman can have at home, while men are free to pursue their ideals, fight and lose the battle? There are many themes in this novel, and if I were younger, I would have failed to appreciate them. It is not an easy read, as the whole life and changes of Itale during the five years of his pursuit is so realistic and painful to read. But it is certainly a great work unlike any other of Le Guin's works.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Grof J. Kešetović

    This book was an utter disappointment. I've heard so many good things about Le Guin and I think to start with her works with this book was a bad thing. Firstly, the book publisher had a rather vague name of "Orsinia" on my copy and the blurb did brag about a fictional kingdom that goes trough many generations of change and conflict. This book is an attempt of emulating Russian classics with many witty characters and grand personalities. This work has too many nonsensical characters with poorly d This book was an utter disappointment. I've heard so many good things about Le Guin and I think to start with her works with this book was a bad thing. Firstly, the book publisher had a rather vague name of "Orsinia" on my copy and the blurb did brag about a fictional kingdom that goes trough many generations of change and conflict. This book is an attempt of emulating Russian classics with many witty characters and grand personalities. This work has too many nonsensical characters with poorly developed plot lines that barely connect with the characters. The chemistry and motives driving the story are unclear and I really think that Le Guin was experimenting here; the proper Orsinian Tales start of much later. I don't recommend it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Ramirez

    As a fan of several of Ursula K. Le Guin's novels, this was a difficult read. There's no denying her way with words. The writing brings this story to life, and yet, the actual story, a young man leaving his home with his revolutionary friends, wasn't all that captivating. The most touching moments came when the main character, Itale, expressed his passion for freedom to the friends and women he loved. I would recommend this novel still, despite the absence of elements Ursula is beloved for: magi As a fan of several of Ursula K. Le Guin's novels, this was a difficult read. There's no denying her way with words. The writing brings this story to life, and yet, the actual story, a young man leaving his home with his revolutionary friends, wasn't all that captivating. The most touching moments came when the main character, Itale, expressed his passion for freedom to the friends and women he loved. I would recommend this novel still, despite the absence of elements Ursula is beloved for: magic, dragons, interstellar voyages, alien worlds. It just requires a little more effort.

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