Voices

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Overview

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is a refuge, a place of family and learning, ritual and memory—the only place where she feels ...

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Voices

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Overview

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is a refuge, a place of family and learning, ritual and memory—the only place where she feels truly safe.
    
Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer's life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?
    
A haunting and gripping coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of violence, intolerance, and magic, Voices is a novel that readers will not soon forget.

Young Memer takes on a pivotal role in freeing her war-torn homeland from its oppressive captors.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[star] "Le Guin's superior narrative voice and storytelling power make even small moments ring with truth, and often with beauty."—School Library Journal (starred)
Publishers Weekly
Ursula K. Le Guin's luxurious prose is effortless and elegant in Voices, the companion to her Gifts, a PW Best Book. Orrec, now a famous poet, arrives at the home of 17-year-old Memer, where the family has hidden books forbidden by the occupying Alds. Memer's reverence for the written word, equal parts loving and fearful of its power, will resonate long after the story's end. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Tracy Piombo
Seventeen-year-old Memer is a "siege brat," conceived when invading Ald soldiers raped her mother on the streets of Ansul. Religious zealots, the Alds view women as whores and writing as demonic. Memer nurses dreams of revolt in a secret room full of books that her mother showed her how to access before she died. In this library, the crippled Waylord breaks the Alds' law and teaches Memer how to read. A visit by an Uplands storyteller and a woman with a pet lion-Orrec and Gry from companion novel Gifts (Harcourt, 2004/VOYA December 2004)-sparks a rebellion that threatens the fragile peace of the occupation and awakens Memer's previously unknown mystical powers. Le Guin deftly explores many timely issues in this coming-of-age novel, such as religion, the power of knowledge, the enslaving force of ignorance, and the rights of women. For the most part, she avoids preaching a rigid message. Her treatment of religion is especially evenhanded, and the leader of the occupying forces turns out to be surprisingly open-minded. The conflict might have reached a peaceable conclusion if not for hotheads on both sides. Memer is an engaging narrator, and the characters are well drawn and subtly nuanced. Teens might find this novel rough going, because the story moves at a slow pace and focuses on the details of everyday life. Nevertheless fans of Le Guin's work and especially of Gifts will welcome this companion novel.
Children's Literature - Jennie DeGenaro
This fantasy novel is exciting, well written, and contains elements of intrigue, betrayal, and loyalty. The protagonist, Memer, is a seventeen-year-old, brave girl who helps her city overthrow the oppressors who have occupied the territory all of her life. Her huge home is a refuge from the occupiers who believe reading and writing are evil. The collection of books that remain are secretly hidden in the dark cave that is part of their house. The lord and owner of the house teaches Memer to read, despite being extremely dangerous to do so. The occupiers destroy all books they can find and punish the owners with a horrible death. Memer and family are helped by a poet/storyteller, who comes to stay with his wife and her half lion at the large old house where Memer and the owner and lord live. Inhabitants of the city worship outsiders who tell tales and recite poetry, since reading is no longer allowed. They are instrumental in helping the city overthrow the tyrants. Memer dresses as a boy to act as a spy and is successful in helping the city overthrow the oppressors. Interesting episodes occur while Memer pretends to be a boy. After the city returns to its rightful owners, a new full life opens for Memer, which will take her away from the only life she has ever known. Le Guin has written more than forty works of fiction for adults and children, and has won many national awards for her fine writing.
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-The year Memer was born, a foreign army overthrew her city's elected government, declared the written word demonic, and destroyed every book it could find. Seventeen years later, possession of books is still punishable by death, and Memer and her mentor, the Waylord, are the protectors of a hidden library and the intermediaries of an oracle within it. At the invitation of the head of the occupying forces, Orrec the poet and storyteller and his wife Gry visit the city, and their arrival catalyzes the end of the occupation and the renewed prominence of Memer's extended family. Some readers will recognize Orrec and Gry from Le Guin's Gifts (Harcourt, 2004), although Voices stands entirely on its own. Filled with thought-provoking parallels to our own world, this political saga adeptly shows some pragmatic reasons why a war might end: growing personal connections between an occupying army and a local populace, changes in leadership and dimming of religious fervor within an invading nation, the expense of maintaining a distant garrison, and the recognition by two parties of shared economic goals better served by cooperation than oppression. While her prose is simple and unadorned, Le Guin's superior narrative voice and storytelling power make even small moments ring with truth, and often with beauty.-Beth Wright, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington, VT Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
For 17 years, the great trade city of Ansul has been occupied by the Ald invaders, the university destroyed, the library sacked. The Alds, mistrustful of print, carry out purges of books that have left the city bare of the written word-except for one secret room in the once-great house of Galva, to which only the crippled Lord of Galva and teenaged Memer can gain entry. Into the city come Orrec and Gry, older than they were in Gifts (2004), a storyteller and his animal-tamer wife come to seek out the lost books of Ansul. LeGuin spins a tale fraught with political tension, as Memer watches Orrec move back and forth between the Galvas and the Ald overlord of Ansul. The Alds are religious fanatics who deny Ansul's many gods, view women as chattel and fear books as demons-parallels with 21st-century politics are clear, but the novel's world-building is thorough enough not to bludgeon readers with allegory. LeGuin allows them, along with Memer, to see that there may be alternatives to violence and that the power of narrative, spoken or written, is not to be denied. (Fiction. 12 )
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780152062422
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/1/2008
  • Series: Annals of the Western Shore Series , #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 250,519
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 6.98 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon. www.ursulakleguin.com

Biography

Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Voices


By Le Guin, Ursula K.

Harcourt Children's Books

Copyright © 2006 Le Guin, Ursula K.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0152056785

1
The first thing I can remember clearly is writing the way into the secret room.
I am so small I have to reach my arm up to make the signs in the right place on the wall of the corridor. The wall is coated with thick grey plaster, cracked and crumbling in places so the stone shows through. It's almost dark in the corridor. It smells of earth and age, and it's silent. But I'm not afraid; I'm never afraid there. I reach up and move my writing finger in the motions I know, in the right place, in the air, not quite touching the surface of the plaster. The door opens in the wall, and I go in.
The light in that room is clear and calm, falling from many small skylights of thick glass in the high ceiling. It's a very long room, with shelves down its wall, and books on the shelves. It's my room, and I've always known it. Ista and Sosta and Gudit don't. They don't even know it's there. They never come to these corridors far in the back of the house. I pass the Waylord's door to come here, but he's sick and lame and stays in his rooms. The secret room is my secret, the place where I can be alone, and not scolded and bothered, and not afraid.
The memory isn't of one time I went there, but many. I remember how big the reading table looked to me then, and how high the bookshelves were. I liked to getunder the table and build a kind of wall or shelter with some of the books. I pretended to be a bear cub in its den. I felt safe there. I always put the books back exactly where they belonged on the shelves; that was important. I stayed in the lighter part of the room, near the door that's not a door. I didn't like the farther end, where it grows dark and the ceiling comes down lower. In my mind I called that the shadow end, and I almost always stayed away from it. But even my fear of the shadow end was part of my secret, my kingdom of solitude. And it was mine alone, until one day when I was nine.
Sosta had been scolding me for some stupid thing that wasn't my fault, and when I was rude back to her she called me "sheep hair," which put me in a fury. I couldn't hit her because her arms were longer and she could hold me off, so I bit her hand. Then her mother, my bymother Ista, scolded me and cuffed me. Furious, I ran to the back part of the house, to the dark corridor, and opened the door and went into the secret room. I was going to stay there till Ista and Sosta thought I'd run away and been taken as a slave and was gone forever, and then they'd be sorry for scolding unjustly and cuffing and calling me names. I rushed into the secret room all hot and full of tears and rage-- and there, in the strange clear light of that place, stood the Waylord with a book in his hands.
He was startled, too. He came at me, fierce, his arm raised as if to strike. I stood like a stone. I could not breathe.
He stopped short. "Memer! How did you come here?"
He looked at the place where the door is when it's open, but of course nothing was there but the wall.
I still couldn't breathe or speak.
"I left it open," he said, without believing what he said.
I shook my head.
Finally I was able to whisper, "I know how."
His face was shocked and amazed, but after a while it changed, and he said, "Decalo."
I nodded.
My mother's name was Decalo Galva.
I want to tell of her, but I can't remember her. Or I do but the memory won't go into words. Being held tight, jostling, a good smell in the darkness of the bed, a rough red cloth, a voice which I can't hear but it's only just out of hearing. I used to think if I could hold still and listen hard enough, I'd hear her voice.
She was a Galva by blood and by house. She was head housekeeper for Sulter Galva, Waylord of Ansul, an honorable and responsible position. In Ansul there were no serfs or slaves then; we were citizens, householders, free people. My mother Decalo was in charge of all the people who worked in Galvamand. My bymother Ista, the cook, liked to tell us about how big the household used to be, back then, how many people Decalo had to look after. Ista herself had two kitchen assistants every day, and three helpers for the big dinners for visiting notables; there were four housecleaners, and the handyman, and a groom and stableboy for the horses, eight horses in the stable, some to ride and some to drive. There were quite a few relatives and old people living in the house. Ista's mother lived up over the kitchens, the Waylord's mother lived in the Master's rooms upstairs. The Waylord himself was always travelling up and down the Ansul Coast from town to town to meet with the other waylords, sometimes in the saddle, sometimes in a carriage with a retinue. There was a smithy in the west court in those days, and the driver and postboy lived on the top floor of the carriage house, always ready to go out with the Waylord on his rounds. "Oh it was all busy and abustle," Ista says. "The old days! The good days!"
When I ran through the silent corridors past the ruined rooms, I used to try to imagine those days, the good days. I used to pretend, when I swept the doorways, that I was making ready for guests who'd come through them wearing fine clothes and shoes. I used to go up to the Master's rooms and imagine how they'd looked clean and warm and furnished. I'd kneel in the windowseat there to look out through the clear, small-paned window over the roofs of the city to the mountain.
The name of my city and all the coast north of it, Ansul, means "Looking at Sul"-- the great mountain, last and highest of the five peaks of Manva, the land across the straits. From the seafront and from all the western windows of the city you can see white Sul above the water, and the clouds it gathers round it as if they were its dreams.
I knew the city had been called Ansul the Wise and Beautiful for its university and library, its towers and arcaded courts, its canals and arched bridges and the thousand little marble temples of the street-gods. But the Ansul of my childhood was a broken city of ruins, hunger, and fear. Ansul was a protectorate of Sundraman, but that great nation was busy fighting over its border with Loaman and kept no troops here to defend us. Though rich in goods and farmland, Ansul had long fought no wars. Our well-armed merchant fleet kept pirates from the south from harrying the coast, and since Sundraman enforced an alliance with us long ago, we had had no enemies by land. So when an army of Alds, the people of the deserts of Asudar, invaded us, they swept over the hills of Ansul like wildfire. Their army broke into the city and went through the streets murdering, looting, and raping. My mother Decalo, caught in the street coming from the market, was taken by soldiers and raped. Then the soldiers who had her were attacked by citizens, and in the fighting she managed to get away and get home to Galvamand.
Copyright 2006 by Ursula K. Le Guin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at harcourt.com/contact
or mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Continues...

Excerpted from Voices by Le Guin, Ursula K. Copyright © 2006 by Le Guin, Ursula K.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 18, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Lynn Crow for TeensReadToo.com

    A companion novel to Le Guin's GIFTS, VOICES looks in on the life of a teen growing up in a city controlled by an enemy people. Memer has never known a life when hostile soldiers didn't patrol the streets and the possession of a book was not a crime punishable by death. The invading army believes that written words are evil, and that the city of Ansul is full of demons. But Memer knows that the Waylord, the man who raised her after her mother's death, has a hidden library in his house. There, he teaches her to read, and then, to use her understanding to help the city face its greatest crisis. <BR/><BR/>For a novel that has a lot to do with story-telling and reading, VOICES has more action and excitement than readers might expect. The arrival of Orrec, a great storyteller (and the narrator of GIFTS), rekindles the courage of Ansul's people, and they attempt to rebel against their oppressors. Memer finds herself caught in the middle, torn between her loyalty to the Waylord, who wishes to find a peaceful solution, and her hatred for the soldiers who destroyed so many things that she treasured. With many twists and turns along the way, VOICES delivers a conclusion that is both satisfying and unpredictable. <BR/><BR/>Perhaps the strongest element of the novel, however, is the way it moves from black and white to shades of gray. Orrec believes that all people have some good in them, and as Memer is forced to get to know the invaders she despises, she realizes that they are not all terrible and cruel. Some of them are simply different, and unable to understand her way of life. The message seems to be that it is far better to reach an understanding with others, even if you dislike them, than to take revenge. In a time when cultural and religious clashes make news almost every day, this should hit home with many readers. <BR/><BR/>VOICES is not a perfect book. It slows down a little more than I'd have liked before reaching its conclusion, and Memer was not as active in those events as I expect from a main character. But those flaws are minor compared to everything else about the novel: the distinctive setting and culture, the vivid language and personalities, and a voice that suggests, softly, without preaching, that there is more than one way to win a war.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    coming-of-age, seeking for truth

    Struggling to survive after war and destruction, keeping those she loves safe, and keeping secrets all her own, Memer finds Voices hidden in the words of books, long-forbidden by the desert-dwelling conquerors of her land. Her enemies know the one true god, while Memer's world is loved by many shapes and seasons of god. Mistrust and accidental misrule combine to lay the seeds of rebellion. But what are the weapons of a lover of words, and where does the poet Orrec fit in? Another coming-of-age tale set in Le Guin's wondrously imagined mystical world, Voices beautifully evokes that seeking for truth as childhood turns to adulthood.

    Disclosure: I bought it 'cause I had to keep reading.

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