Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Date Finished: February 29, 2008
Yearly Count: 10
I'm writing this post with the awareness that I cannot do this book justice--mostly because I didn't understand it. Great way to start, huh? Science fiction is a genre I consciously steer clear of, and perhaps with some more exposure it is a genre that I can learn to appreciate. Certainly I can appreciate many aspects of this book, but overall my experience with this book was not an enjoyable one.
I'll start with the back cover of the book (I realize this is SO lame):
"On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can become male or female during each mating cycle, and this is something that other cultures find incomprehensible.
The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent an ethnologist to study the inhabitants of this forbidding, ice-bound world. At first he [Genly Ai] finds his subjects difficult and off-putting, with their elaborate social systems and alien minds. But in the course of a long journey across the ice he reaches and understanding with one of the Gethenians [Estraven]--it might even be a kind of love..."
What I liked about The Left Hand of Darkness: Le Guin's language is exquisite. After coming off of Water for Elephants, I really appreciated the insight and careful look at humankind through Le Guin's thoughtful and strong command of her storytelling. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Le Guin explores the inherent roles of men and women, especially as the Gethenians are not necessarily either man or woman. There is a poignant section (my pages 234-5) that discuss the differences between men and women and the difficulties that Ai has in verbalizing the different characteristics. I believe this book would have been best read (for me) in a college course where I could have teased out some of the themes (gender, societal evolution, crime and punishment, etc).
What I struggled with: While the book had many very interesting sections (namely the section where Ai is in prison and then when he and Estraven make their journey back to Karhide together), the book became very dense in other parts. Le Guin provides a detailed mythology of the planet and the different cultures that I often got lost in; the language (specific words) and culture were difficult for me to get past because they are utterly foreign. Also, the book is a sort of compilation of different artifacts (some myth, some from Estraven's journal, some from Ai's journal, etc); because of the different points of view and the lack of voice, I had a difficult time discerning who's point of view I was reading. This was a difficult read for me, but I'm glad I finished and can move on.