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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520227354
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 02/27/2001
Series: California Fiction Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 534
Sales rank: 306,538
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of novels, children's books, short stories, critical writings, and poetry. She is the winner of the National Book Award and the Nebula and Hugo awards for science fiction. She grew up in Berkeley and the Napa Valley and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book is The Telling (2000).


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin

Stone Telling

Part I

Stone Telling is my last name. It has come to me of my own choosing, because I have a story to tell of where I went when I was young; but now I go nowhere, sitting like a stone in this place, in this ground, in this Valley. I have come where I was going.

My house is the Blue Clay, my household the High Porch of Sinshan.

My mother was named Towhee, Willow, and Ashes. My father's name, Abhao, in the Valley means Kills.

In Sinshan babies' names often come from birds, since they are messengers. In the month before my mother bore me, an owl came every night to the oak trees called Gairga outside the windows of High Porch House, on the north side, and sang the owl's song there; so my first name was North Owl.

High Porch is an old house, well-built, with large rooms; the beams and frame are redwood, the walls of adobe brick and plaster, the flooring oak, the windows of clear glass in small square panes/ The balconies of High Porch are deep and beautiful. The great-grandmother of my grandmother was the first to live in our rooms, on the first floor, under the roof; when the family was big they needed the whole floor, but my grandmother was the only one of her generation, and so we lived in the two west rooms only. We could not give much. We had the use of ten wild olives and several other gathering trees on Sinshan Ridge and a seed-clearing on the east side of Wakyahum, and planted potatoes and corn and vegetables in one of the plots on the creek southeast of Adobe Hill, but we took much more corn and beans from the storehouses than we gave. My grandmother Valiant was a weaver. When I was a small child she had no sheep in the family, and so we gave most of what she wove for wool to weave more. The first thing I remember of being alive is that my grandmother's fingers moved across the warp of the loom, forth and back, a silver crescent bracelet shining on her wrist below the red sleeve.

The second thing I remember is that I went up to the spring of our creek in the fog in early morning in the winter. It was my first time as a Blue Clay child to dip up water for the new-moon wakwa. I was so cold I cried. The older children laughed at me and said I had spoiled the water. My grandmother was officiating, and she told me the water was all right, and let me carry the moon-jar all the way back to town; but I bawled and snivelled all the way, because I was cold and heavy. I can feel that cold and wet and weight now in old age, and see the dead arms of the manzanita black in the fog, and hear the voices laughing and talking before and behind me on the steep path beside the creek.

I go there, I go there.
I go where I went
Crying beside the water.
It goes there, it goes there,
The fog along the water.

I did not spend much time crying; maybe not enough. My mother's father said, "Laugh first, cry later; cry first, laugh later." He was a Serpentine man from Chumo, and had gone back to that town to live said once, "Living with my husband is like eating unleached acorns." But she went down to visit him from time to time in Chumo, and he would come and stay with us in the hills in summer, when Chumon was baking like a biscuit down on the Valley floor. His sister Green Drum was a famous Summer dancer, but his family never gave anything. He said they were poor because his mother and grandmother had given everything in past years putting on the Summer dances in Chumo. My grandmother said they were poor because they didn't like working. They may both have been right.

The only other human people directly in my family lived in Madininou. My grandmother's sister had gone there to live, and her son had married a Red Adobe woman there. We often visited, and I played with my second cousins, a girl and a boy called Pelican and Hops.

Our family animals when I was a small child were himpi, poultry, and a cat. Our cat was black without a white hair, handsome, mannerly, and a great hunter. We traded her kittens for himpi, so that for a while we had a big pen of himpi. I looked after them and the chickens, and kept cats out of the runs and pens down under the lower balconies. When I began staying with the animals I was still so small that the green-tailed cock frightened me. He knew it, and would come at me jerking his neck and swearing, and I would scramble over the divider into the himpi run to escape him. The himpi would come and sit up and whistle at me. They were a comfort to me, even more than kittens. I learned not to name them, and not to trade them alive for eating, but to kill quickly those I traded, since some people kill animals without care or skill, causing fear and pain. I cried enough to suit even my grandfather, after the night a sheepdog went amok and got into the run and slaughtered every himpi but a few nestlings. I could not speak to a dog for months after that. But it turned out well for my family, since the sheepdog's people gave us a ewe in lamb to make up for the loss of our himpi. The ewe bore twin ewe lambs, and so my mother was a shepherd again, and my grandmother had family wool to spin and weave.

I do not remember learning to read and dance; my grandmother was teaching me from before the time I began to speak and walk. When I was five I began going to the heyimas with the other Blue Clay children, mornings, and later studied with teachers in the heyimas and in the Blood, Oak, and Mole Lodges; I learned the Salt Journey; I studied a little with the poet Ire, and a long time with the potter Clay Sun. I was not quick to learn, and never considered going to a school in one of the great towns, though several children of Sinshan did so. I liked learning in the heyimas, taking part in a structure larger than my own knowledge, in which I could find relief from feelings of fear and anger which unaided I could not understand or get past. Yet I did not learn as much as I might have done, but always hung back, and said, "I can't do that."

Some of the children, illmeaning or ignorant, called me Hwikmas, "half-House." I had also heard people say of me, "She is half a person." I understood this in my own way, badly, since it was not explained to me at home. I had not the courage to ask questions at the heyimas, or to go where I might have learned about matters outside the little town of Sinshan, and begun to see the Valley as a part of a whole as well as a whole. Since neither my mother nor her mother spoke of him, in the first years of my life all I knew of my father was that he had come from outside the Valley and had gone away again. This meant to me only that I had no father's mother, no father's House, and therefore was a half-person. I had not even heard of the Condor people. I had lived eight years before we went to the hot springs in Kastoha-na to treat my grandmother's rheumatism, and in the common place there saw men of the Condor.

I will tell that journey. It was a small journey many years ago. It is a journey of the still air.

Copyright © 1985 by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Always Coming Home 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tired of shattered, dystopian visions of a future in which our dehumanized descendants live under brutal oppression ? Then READ THIS BOOK!!!!  It's about a complex, rich culture that might exist thousands of years down the line in what is now Northern California. Step into that world. Read about the Kesh people's customs, dances, and rituals. Sample their stories, plays,  and recipes. You may even start thinking of ways that you can experience the Kesh people's sense of connectedness with nature and others into your own life. 
Rubygarnet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this ethnography of a fictional culture -- it could be the notes for a novel that was never written, but then two-thirds of it would have been discarded under the Kill Your Darlings rule. It's bigger, somehow, for being what it is instead; a multitude of stories, songs, recipes, practices, histories, essays, and other depictions of the lives of people who might live someday.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think this is a book that either strikes a deeply resonant chord with you, or else you're left somewhat wondering why people rave about it.The closest analog I can think of for describing it might be Middle Earth¿particularly the post-Lord of the Rings portions¿though the themes, and even the genre, are completely different. There is the same desire on the part of the author to create an entire world, with its geographies, customs, languages, writing, arts, history and every other aspect on full display.For my part, Le Guin is less successful at this task than Tolkien was. Some of it may be different natural talents for this particular kind of detailed world-building. However, where Tolkien conceived of his world and then built stories in it, my impression is that Le Guin conceived of a novella (the main story line is only 133 pages out of 563) and built the world around it. Of course, I have no idea of her creative process and might be wrong, but the impression remains that this wasn't a living, breathing world for her from which stories arose organically.The result is something that is inherently contradictory to read. The story of Stone Telling begs for linear reading. The rest is like an encyclopedia where one wants to dip here, follow a link there, skim things of less interest. I got the impression that Le Guin wanted to tell just a bit of the story and then say, "Ah, but forget the story for now; step over here and see if you can understand how the Kesh lived their lives." It sounded interesting in the book description but, in practice, I found myself losing interest in the story line while reading about pottery and losing interest in the encyclopedia while reading the story.Ironically, I think the novella portion, taken alone, has some of the same faults as above-mentioned creation of Tolkien's: there are characters wearing the white hats; there are those wearing the black hats; there aren't (unlike the real world) a lot of people in between who are fleshed out for us. Le Guin does give a nod to the fact that jealousy, murder and rape exist in her world of the Valley, but is so slightly referenced that it doesn't really impinge forcefully upon the reader's consciousness. The literal words she writes are submerged under a sense that the flower children of the Summer of Love have encountered the KKK. She rescues this somewhat at the very end by having Stone Telling speculate on social natural selection, that the Kesh could live lightly upon the land and each other because the apocalypse that had destroyed our world had left only those who could survive in that way.This book has a reputation in some quarters for boiling down to a formula of: patriarchy is bad; matriarchy is good. I think that's a misapprehension. There's little doubt about the "patriarchy is bad" part but, while the Kesh are matrilineal and matrilocal, I didn't see anything that indicated they were matriarchal. Rather, it seemed that they pursued a rather egalitarian form of consensus government, a philosophy more consistent with what I read in her other books. I think the erroneous impression is because there are very few sympathetic male figures in the story and the ones who are sympathetic tend to be rather peripheral. I feel that this creates an impression in the reader's mind of "women getting it right," with the extension to matriarchy being somewhat natural, if not necessarily indicated. In the end, this was an ambitious project for which I have respect: building a world as finely detailed and consistently conceived is something most authors would fail at miserably. As a story, however, I was left wanting¿it was a fair read but nothing more for me. Le Guin remains one of my favorite authors of speculative fiction but this is not among my favorites of her work.
millata on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a really long time to finish this book. English is not my first language and at first the changing styles made the book a difficult one to follow. However, when I picked the book up again I finished it in a matter of days. The combination of characters, pieces of culture and storytelling create a whole that is difficult to appreciate if you are too eager to know the outcome and jump over sections of the book that seem unrelated to anything else. I would definitely recommend this book but only for a reader who is able to appreciate the way the story is told as much as the actual main storyline. For me the reason I enjoyed the book so much was that it reminded me how important it is to know the context of the story to understand why things turn out the way they do. Much like contemporary books expect you to be familiar with the world around you to appreciate jokes or references.
ronincats on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was re-read for a group read, and I enjoyed reading it again. Le Guin's parents were anthropologists, with her father concentrating on cultures in the American Northwest, and their influence has always been discernible in her science fiction, but nowhere more so than here. This is not a linear story but an immersion into a post-apocalyptic world from the viewpoint of one cultural group. Both for this group, the Sinshan in their valley, and for the Condor, Le Guin accurately uses many features present in the aboriginal cultures of the Northwest and the Northern plains. The culture is shared not only by narrative but by song, poem, legend, and infrastructure, giving a rich, multi-layered texture to the society. The author, as Pandora, frets about her approach, but ultimately speaks her true purpose, I believe, in the chapter of Pandora speaking with the archivist. ARC: But I have no answers and this isn't utopia, aunt!PAN: The hell it ain't.ARC: This is a mere dream dreamed in a bad time, an Up Yours to the people who ride snowmobiles, make nuclear weapons, and run prison camps by a middle-aged housewife, a critique of civilisation possible only to the civilised, an affirmation pretending to be a rejection, a glass of milk for the soul ulcered by acid rain, a piece of pacifist jeanjacquerie, and a cannibal dance among the savages in the ungodly garden of the farthest West.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At first, I didn¿t think I would like this unusually structured book, but it very gradually and completely captured my imagination. It is a collection of writings¿poems, songs, stories and essays¿about the life and culture of a group of people living in California far in the future, long after our own civilization has collapsed and been almost obliterated. It is not clear who has collected these writings, but it seems to be a character named Pandora, an emissary from our present time who is perhaps merely dreaming this utopian future society.The Kesh, as these people are called, are in many ways very primitive, with a Native American-style culture that revolves around seasonal celebrations, growing crops, caring for livestock, hunting and gathering, and taking care of all the work of life. The Kesh¿s society is the opposite of capitalism, in that wealth comes through giving things away, not owning them, and everyone shares in the village¿s resources.But the Kesh are not entirely primitive. Though all fossil fuels are gone, they have electricity (sun-, wind- and water-powered, no doubt), as well as access to a network of computers¿a network that extends around the globe and into outer space via unmanned probes and satellites¿that store all of human history and knowledge. The Kesh just don¿t seem interested in progressing past their idyllic state, and they refer to societies like ours as ¿people with their heads on backwards.¿Not that life is perfect for the Kesh. They suffer from a high rate of birth defects and early mortality due to radiation and chemical poisoning, leftovers from our defunct civilization, which keeps the population from growing too large. And their stories reveal that they suffer from human nature just like any of us.One such story¿the longest in the collection, almost a novel¿presents a dystopian alternative to the Kesh. A warlike society called the Condor people come to the Valley where the Kesh live, and one of the soldiers marries a Kesh woman and fathers a daughter, Stone Telling. When she gets older, she chooses to accompany her father to his home. Her story is the only the knowledge the Kesh have of how the Condor people live. They hold slaves, are ruled by a dictator and worship a single powerful god. The women have no rights and are not allowed to leave their homes without completely covering themselves. They are obsessed with war and building war machines that they don¿t have the fuel to power, at the expense of feeding their people. Eventually, Stone Telling escapes back to her own people, but we get the sense that the Condor people are well on the path to self-destruction.It took me a while to get caught up in the stories of the Kesh. Stone Telling¿s long memoir, broken into three parts and interspersed by other writings, helps anchor the book. I gradually found myself enchanted and fascinated by the Kesh as I learned more about them, especially their spiritual practices and the important ritual dances they hold at significant times of the year. Mostly, I admired their approach to life, without judgment or a strict moral code, respectful of both the individual and the whole, which includes the animals, plants, stones, earth, stars, everything.I have lately felt overwhelmed by depressing world events, our materialistic culture and the problems we felt, particularly our environmental problems. This book offered both an escape and an alternative way of thinking about those problems.
piemouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't get this book and don't understand the raves for it. The narrative was interesting but seemed simplistic: peaceful agrarian people good, patriarchal warring people bad. The anthropological viewpoint was different but not enlightening for me.Talking to a friend who loves this book shed some light on what she liked about it and made me see other ways to look at the stories, but I don't share her delight.
Elasiel More than 1 year ago
Shedding a beautiful light on life’s possibilities, this book reforms post-cataclysmic human society on earth - in ways that feel as though they could be and have been before. Changed coastlines, changed people, but still people on the coast. The format of one main tale surrounded by cultural articles gives the etic and emic ethnographic perspective of a time that feels quite real, and familiar. Portions of this book speak through time and imagination of experience that transcends both. Nature is nature, people are people, and home is home. The poems can be read by themselves and appreciated by other audiences. I enjoyed the created world so thoroughly that… okay, confession time… I read aloud every word listed in the glossary. In my life of reading books with invented glossaries, only J. R. R. Tolkien’s had me as engrossed. Words crafted with sound and culture by someone who understands language! I read the entire glossary in a Game of Thrones book, but not aloud in entirety.
mrkay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book on the possible historical development of pre-Columbian America people.
purplestoregirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you've read five copies of the Tao Te Ching, a copy of the Chuang Tzu and a copy of the Lieh Tzu, this is your next book. While a little disjointed and challenging to wrap one's head around at times, the book rewards those trying to reconcile a taoist life in the modern world through anecdotes, poems and parables.
puabi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great book. Don't do as I did the first time and rush through Stone Telling's story, ignoring the rest. The poetry, folklore, and essays all contribute beautifully to the whole. I've heard it called "didactic environmentalism", but personally I loved it despite its admittedly rather shallow dig at a "straw man" patriarchal culture.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. It is tattered now b/c I read it so many times. I like the edition with the yellow grass in the foreground. This reminds me of my yearly trips to Ohio. I like it