Genre : Science Fiction
Publisher : Harper Voyager
Length : 387 pages
Format : Ebook
Rating : 5 stars
Publication Month: May 1974
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life—Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Urras, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
Shevek is a brilliant physicist from Anarres, a planet inhabited by a group of anarchists who chose to put everything behind and leave their former planet Urras, Anarres’s sister planet, to build a society completely at odds with the one on Urras. For years, the two planets have had very limited cultural interactions yet, they are co-dependent: Anarres is a mining-planet that provides Urras with precious metals while Urras provides them with food and resources that are not available on Anarres. However, few exchanges are done outside this material trade and people from Shevek’s faction want to deepen the bond between the sister planets. One day, Shevek does the impossible, he leaves his life on Anarres to visit Urras.
What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said a million times already? Probably not much. However, The Dispossessed was my favorite read of 2020 and it’s a strong contender to become one of my favorite books of all time after a re-read so, I feel like I ought to post a review of it.
This book is brilliant. It was my first foray into Le Guin’s work and it blew me away. Very few books impacted the way I read and apprehend literature like The Dispossessed did. First of all, Le Guin’s writing is superb but her ideas, her ideas truly are on another level.
It did take me a few chapters to get used to the dense writing and at first, I struggled with Shevek’s perspective. He appears quite detached from a lot of events and he is quite naïve and unprepared for his journey to Urras. However, my thoughts and feelings about Shevek and the novel as a whole completely changed once I started reading the chapters about Shevek’s life on Anarres.
Anarres is a social experiment of sort. It’s a society based on equality and fairness. People on Anarres don’t have any personal possessions but they have access to everything they need. Men and women are equals, social classes don’t exist, children have access to education and they can choose to study anything they want, adults apply for the jobs they want where they want. Living on Anarres isn’t easy since the planet has very few resources. However, everyone is struggling in the same ways and no one is lacking anything to live a decent life. People are encouraged to give their opinions and to participate in the social and political life of the city they live in. In a lot of ways, the people of Anarres live in a utopian society.
Urras is, at first glance, the polar opposite of Anarres. Rich people have everything, poor people are left to die homeless in the streets. The various nations of the planet are at war with each other, women are treated like garbage and can’t apply for jobs: they are only supposed to be pretty and take care of the family, only rich men are able attend college. Unlike Anarres, Urras is a fertile plnet yet people are still starving because the resources aren’t shared properly (sounds a lot like Earth, doesn’t it?).
On paper, Urras and Anarres are opposite. Urras sucks, Anarres is as perfect as can be. However, it would be underestimating Le Guin’s genius to think that it is that simple. The two planets are quite different in many ways yet, they have similarities and those similarities are what truly makes the book fascinating to me. Anarres is supposed to be a place where everyone is able to question the society yet, in practice, there are hidden power dynamics which still rule a lot of things. After generations, the Odonian society that was supposed to be ever-changing is now stuck because of the lack of resources, bureaucracy and centralization of power.
Urras is also a lot more complex than it is first presented. The different nations on the planet don’t have the same views on matter such as gender equality or the distribution of resources. Nothing is as simple as one might first think it is and, Shevek slowly realizes how little he actually knows about Urras and his own planet.
In The Dispossessed, Le Guin questions everything: gender roles, economy, politics, universal human flaws and, how societies change with time. It’s a book to read slowly and to discuss with other people. I probably missed a lot of interesting elements and nuances during my first read but I cannot wait to experience this book again to explore its various layers.
Vintage Science Fiction Month is a month-long event celebrating science fiction works published or produced before 1979. The event is hosted by the wonderful Andrea from the blog The Little Red Reviewer.