by Ursula K. Le Guin

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In a richly imagined, beautiful new novel, an acclaimed writer gives an epic heroine her voice

In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.

Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156033688
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 04/10/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 83,772
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

URSULA K. LE GUIN was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929, and passed away in Portland, Oregon, in 2018. She published over sixty books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature, and translation. She was the recipient of a National Book Award, six Hugo and five Nebula awards, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


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

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


"She never loses touch with her reverence for the immense what is."—Margaret Atwood

"Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own."—Boston Globe

'There is no writer with an imagination as forceful and delicate as Le Guin's."—Grace Paley

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Lavinia 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Lizbiz5396 More than 1 year ago
The Aeneid retold from a different perspective. Ancient history is a favorite topic of mine. I really enjoy Roman history in particular. When I came across this book, I was so pleasantly surprised! In the past, I have looked for fictitious novels set around this time period and have been disappointed in the selection. Usually I find the only books written around this time period with female main characters are cheesy romance novels...the type of books I am not interested in. However, Lavinia was a breath of fresh air. The book is based around a character from Virgil's Aeneid who did not have much of a voice in his epic tale. I read the Aeneid and was not disappointed one bit by Lavinia. Ursula K. Le Guin does a brilliant job in retelling Virgil's story from Lavinia's perspective. If you are someone who is interested in ancient history and want a book that is not some cheesy romance novel, I highly recommend Lavinia. This book will definitely remain a keeper among the other books I have read and will probably be read again in the future!
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
Anyone who knows Virgil's The Aeneid will either love or hate Le Guin's retelling of the life of Lavinia as it intersects Aeneas's story. Le Guin, as always presents a tale replete with layers of conflict and underlying social commentary. Some of the most obvious is the masculine and feminine roles, the duties of a ruler to her/his people, the view of women as property and powerless, the tragedies of war, and, oddly, the inner conflict of homosexuals in a heterosexually dominated culture. Whether these elements will be endearing to lovers of Virgil's story, or if this will be seen as a good edition to the overall telling of Aeneas's tale is left to be seen. However, for those not caught up in this as an extension of Virgil, the story actually has legs of its own. Many reviewers have said that it's not one of Le Guin's best, but I beg to differ. The same was said about C.S. Lewis's retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche in Til We Have Faces, although Lewis is quoted as having considered it his greatest work, and I feel much the same way about this novel. It takes a lot of work and effort to get the history correct, and not only that, but Le Guin spends great lengths describing everything about the culture and time period-clothes, food, rituals, architecture, gender interplay, landscape, and much more-so that the reader can imagine every last detail of each scene. The early Latin culture becomes illuminated so that the story itself can live in an accurately detailed world. My guess is that since there is no magic in this story, outside of some prophesies and allusions to the intervention of the gods, people who love Le Guin's usual writing couldn't quite get into this one. However, I believe that it will stand the test of time as one of her greatest works, and hopefully it will be seen as an addition to Virgil's great epic. Le Guin herself reveals her love for The Aeneid in the afterword, pining after the days when people were still taught Latin as part of their education, so that they could be enriched by the words of Virgil. She insists that people will not be able to understand the full beauty and magnitude of the work unless they read it in the original Latin. -Lindsey Miller,
professa More than 1 year ago
I probably would never have heard of this book if I had not come across a list of four books for people who are interested in Rome and its history. I love Rome and have been there 13 times so I decided why not!? The book is about Lavinia, the wife of Aeneas from "The Aeneid." She is barely mentioned in that book so Ursula K. Le Guin decided to write a novel giving Lavinia some life and background. This book is listed as the second one to read in the four--"Roma" by Steven Saylor, "Lavinia," "The Aeneid" by Virgil, and "The Secrets of Rome (Love and Death in the Eternal City)" by Corrado Augias. I must also admit that the series of books intrigued me because I had read part of "The Aeneid" in my fourth year Latin class in high school. I had always intended to read the whole book in English and had long owned a copy of it. I must say I enjoyed this book and would recommend it on its own merits even if the reader did not intend to read all four books. I found it interesting and fun. I liked the idea that Lavinia meets/dreams Virgil when she visited the sacred grove of her family and learns about what he is writing. It seemed an original idea to me. Since I have now read through Book 9 of "The Aeneid," I have run into information about several of the characters in "Lavinia," though the heroine herself has so far only been mentioned as the unnamed daughter of the Latin King. Several of the events mentioned in "The Aeneid" were fleshed out with added interest by Le Guin. As I said I enjoyed this book and also would recommend "Roma" as a fun view of Rome's history starting in !000 BC. I am also enjoying "The Aeneid" though I have to admit I searched the Internet and found a prose translation rather than deal with worrying about end-line punctuation. And every once in a while all the names get to me, and I take a break by reading a mystery or two. The four books make up a project I am most certainly happy to have chosen!
Carla Knotek 5 days ago
This was a different viewpoint from previous historical novels I've read; it's very well written and brings to life everyday details of the period.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A satisfying read that clearly describes the culture and geography of pre Roman Italy. Lavinia is a female heroine who's life as a strong steady self determined person.
revslick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Classic follow up to The Aeneid as Ursula imagines the fate of a minor character mentioned only briefly but so self aware and enlightening.
allisonmacias on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lavinia is the faceless princess of Latinum in Virgil's poem. Lavinia finally tells her story. Born to a peaceful king, Latinus, and his disturbed wife, Amata, Lavinia's childhood is ideal, except for her mother's frequent outbursts. When Lavinia is "ripe for marriage", many suitors travel to Latinum to ask for Lavinia's hand in marriage and to become the next King. Amata favors her nephew, Turnus, to become Lavinia's husband. While vising a holy site, Lavinia is told by a poet from the future that she will marry a foreigner. Her father is also warned in visions not to marry his daughter to a Latin. Lavinia's hair catches on fire while making an offering, but she is unharmed and the omens point to war. Aeneas lands on Latinum's shores and proposes a treaty between the Trojans and Latinus. Latinus agrees and gives Lavinia in marriage to Aeneas. Amata and Turnus are outraged at this "betrayal" and war breaks out between Turnus' people and the Trojans. Powerless to stop the bloodshed, Lavinia waits for the end her poet prophesied. Aeneas emerges victorious and the new couple found Lavinium. But the poet dies before his work is finished and the future is cloudy. Lavinia soon finds herself deprived of the two men she loved.Lovers of Virgil's poem will relish this book. I had wondered about Aeneas, but never questioned who one of Rome's mothers really was. Upon starting the book, I was transported to the Italian hills. Lavina is loved by her father, but despised by her mother. She grows up with a strong sense of duty to her family and the people of Latinum. She agrees to marry Aeneas without any real knowledge of him, exhibiting faith in her poet. I loved her strength throughout the whole book. Though she faces adversity, she never lets it overcome her. Her cunning and wisdom make for a wonderful heroine, mother and wife. Lavinia, the woman defined by a man, doesn't need a man to define her.
LeeHallison on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this - a book that resonated for me long after I put it down. I loved the "meta" fiction nature - having the character realize she is a character, having the author who created her exist...very clever, very unique and handled well by LeGuin. Story line was great, and although I never read The Aeneid, the story was familiar enough just from going through normal school history that I was able to follow along and gain a deeper appreciation for it. I even have considered reading the original now. I hope more people give this book a try.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the great epic poem the Aeneid, the character of Lavinia, Latin wife to Aeneas, never utters a word. In fact, she is barely even described. Le Guin here sets out to rectify the situation, fleshing out the character into a real, complex person in her own right, rather than the mere plot device she served as in Virgil¿s poem. Le Guin succeeds wonderfully.Here we have the beautiful, strong-minded, and spiritual princess Lavinia of Latinum, only surviving child to King Latinus and his queen, Queen Amata. The childhood deaths of their sons has unhinged Amata and driven a wedge between mother and daughter, but Lavinia and Latinus are close. As Lavinia approaches a marriageable age, Amata becomes fixated on marrying Lavinia to her nephew, Turnus, the ambitious king of a neighboring kingdom. It would be a good match politically, but Lavinia fears both her mother¿s motives for the marriage and also Turnus¿. Besides which, while on a spiritual vigil in her youth, Lavinia received visions from none other than Virgil himself in which he, near death in his own time and place, bemoaned the fact that he had so slighted her in his poem and foretold her marriage to the great king Aeneas. Thus spiritually armed against her mother¿s crazed insistence, Lavinia chooses to make her own destiny on the day the Trojan Aeneas¿s black ships sail up the Tiber toward the land that will one day become Rome.Lyrically beautiful, wonderfully detailed and well-researched, Lavinia is a triumph from an author already worthy of acclaim. Highly recommended.
Berly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lavinia took me right back to my high school English classes and all the great classics. This amazing novel is a retelling of the Aeneid from the point of view of Vergil's character Lavinia. In Vergil's epic poem, Lavinia does not utter a word, but here, Le Guin sets her free and we hear of the suitors and the prophecies, the battles and of her great love. It is an amazing work and now I have to find my copy of the Aeneid again. I think Le Guin is one of the most gifted of writers, and I am not alone. Do you know how many awards she has won? Let me list them for you: A National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Pen/Malamud Award. Whew!! Oh, and she lives in Portland, OR, where I am from. ; )
Audacity88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's essentially a popularization of the Aeneid, effected through a retelling by a minor character who LeGuin makes somewhat of an outsider to the central action of the story. LeGuin's take on the story can hardly match the gravity of the original, and on its own it seems merely a pale shadow. What I do think it would be useful for is as a concurrent complement to reading Virgil, since LeGuin succeeds in making his often distant characters feel real.
debs4jc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the Iliad there is a character named Lavina, the daughter of a king who is destined to become the wife of Aeneas, the Trojan hero who help found the Roman empire. This story masterfully takes us into the life of a young girl in early Italy, a young girl who has dreams and visions and whose own passions affect the story that unfolds. Lavina's character is filled with humaness that the reader can relate to, and this ancient story is made fresh and accessible for an entirely new audience  It made me want to read the Iliad again, and any story that draws one to the ancient classics can't be a bad thing!
MarysGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely, lyrical story by one of my favorite authors Ursula K. Le Guin (you can read an extensive interview I conducted with her at my website.) The story is Lavinia's - the daughter of a Latin king, who, in Virgil's Aeneid, doesn't even have a line of dialog. In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice.It's a quiet, thoughtful voice. Lavinia is totally overshadowed by her mad mother and bullying suitors, but makes her way in and out of the shadows with the guidance of "her poet" -- a shade she met at a holy place who sang the story of her life and gave her the strength to cleave to her own path. Le Guin gives us an insight into Bronze Age Italy, a wild place of tribes, nature gods and cattle raiding. I highly recommend this book.
saraswati27 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think that Le Guin is a master, let's just start with that. I haven't loved everything she writes. But many things of hers resonate with me, and when they do catch my heart, her books are among the best.Lavinia is the story of history, from the point of view of those whose stories rarely get told. The story pulls you through history and mythology asking what these stories really mean.By looking at history from the other side, it also asks what violence means, and how violence affects us in our families and relationships.If you really like Lavinia, I'd highly recommend Sherri S. Tepper's "The Gate to Women's country".
quigui on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First and foremost I have to say that Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favourite authors (if not THE favourite). I bought this book without knowing what it was about. Her name on the cover was enough. And it didn't disappoint.Different from her other works, Lavinia is based on the Aeneid, telling the story of Lavinia, to whom Virgil devoted little space. Would I like it better had I read the masterpiece? Maybe, but I enjoyed discovering bit by bit the story of Lavinia and Aeneas.Lavinia is a love story in essence, but it is also much more than that. It's about family and tradition, war and betrayal, and about giving voice to a character that had none. What did I like about this book? I loved the slight non-linearity of it. I loved the metafiction aspect of it. I loved that despite knowing what was going to happen in the end, I still wanted to know how it happened. I truly recommend this book.
storyjunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Understated, and oddly meditative, given the war in the middle. I liked the forays into the nature of storytelling, stories, and reality. Lavinia is that unusual combination of admirable and honestly flawed heroine. For a self-titled story, the focus is often elsewhere, with Lavinia's eyes as the lens not necessarily the subject.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: In The Aeneid, Aeneas arrives in what will one day be known as Italy, and marries the King's daughter, Lavinia, thus founding the line that will one day lead to the Roman empire. In this book, LeGuin gives us the story from Lavinia's point of view: a young girl who grew up in the peace that her father had created among the warring tribes. A girl with a mother who is more than half-mad, whose ambition seeks for her daughter to marry her powerful yet arrogant cousin Turnus. A girl who does not want to marry, but who is told by oracles and omens that she must wed a foreigner, and that her doing so will cause a deadly war. A girl who knows that her husband is fated to live for only a few years, leaving her behind forever. A girl who is silent in Virgil's poem, but who has her own story to tell, and who has finally reclaimed her voice.Review: I picked up Lavinia due to its similarities with Jo Graham's Black Ships, which I absolutely loved. Both are retellings of part of The Aeneid (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not read) from a minor character's (and woman's) point of view. Lavinia picks up more or less where Black Ships leaves off, with Aeneas's arrival in Italy. But, while they're obviously very similar in story and in perspective, there was a definite difference in my reaction; while Black Ships took my breath away, I was never particularly captivated by Lavinia.That's not to say that Lavinia was a bad read. In fact, I did quite enjoy both the early sections of the book - which describe Lavinia's childhood, and gave me an excellent sense for the structure of life in ancient Italy - and the later sections of the book, in which Lavinia is struggling against her knowledge of her husband's untimely yet fated death. I also thought that using Virgil's ghost as the mouthpiece of prophecy was an interesting touch that gave the story an extra dimension of musing on fate and knowledge and coincidence and causality, although some of the parts in which Lavinia spends time ruminating about whether she's even real or just a creation of "the poet" were a little bit *too* meta for my tastes. However, I never really connected with the characters as much as I would have liked, nor did I really feel any sense of urgency about the story (with the exception of the part immediately preceding Aeneas's death, as I mentioned.) Particularly in the middle section of the book, and particularly during LeGuin's description of the battles that followed Lavinia's betrothal to Aeneas, I found my attention wandering. There's a lot of "so-and-so slew so-and-so", but since none of the minor characters were developed much beyond a name, I didn't particularly care. Overall, while the book was for the most part well done, did have enough interesting parts to keep me reading, I didn't find much to get really excited about, either. 3.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: While I didn't *love* it, I liked it well enough, and it's a relatively easy read, so if you like myths, legends, and other classic stories retold from a woman's point of view (a la The Mists of Avalon), or if you're interested in pre-Roman Italy, then I'd recommend giving Lavinia a chance.
yosbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. It probably would have had a much greater impact if I was familiar with Vergil's The Aeneid.
bkswrites on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I went to look at this book mostly because I write in the voices of Bible characters, and because I've never failed to be impressed with LeGuin. I had just torn myself away from the paperback, trying to talk myself out of buying it after reading the first chapter, but on the way back from the restroom, I found a first-printing hardcover in the deep-discount bin. I think it was meant for me. I finished reading it some weeks ago, but haven't been able to find a better place for the volume than my nightstand. OK, some of it was a little magical for my taste, but even that gave me what felt like an authentic window on the mindset of a culture that far precedes mine. But those parts taught me how people of her time might have thought, and in ways that I could not have grasped from pedagogy of any sort (and I did take Latin, way back). I really cared about Lavinia. I really had to work to let her live in her culture and not demand the understandings of mine. I've been known to lecture my contemporaries on how people of the cultures represented in the Bible probably understood the "supernatural" events narrated there in a very different way than we (at least adults) do looking back through our scientifically ground lenses. But LeGuin let Lavinia tell us, show us, how much easier it was to understand things from her viewpoint. I'm awfully glad she did.
jveezer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A single daughter, now ripe for a man,now of full marriageable age, kept the greathousehold. Many from borad Latium andall Ausonia came wooing her...From these lines and the rest of the last six books of Vergil's epic poem the Aeneid, Le Guin weaves the story of Lavinia. So beautiful does the author find Virgil's poetry that she calls her novel an "act of gratitude to the poet, a love offering".At 78 years old, I'll take any love offering Ursula wants to write. Lavinia is my favorite novel outside of the Earthsea Series. I loved how she moved fluidly back and forth in time and between worlds, imagining the spiritual bonds and interaction between the people and their places. Her insights into war and it's place in the male psyche make one wonder if we'll ever break free from it's violence. This was a hard book to put down and therefore a quick read.
masterdeski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Le Guin, and was overjoyed when I saw her newest book was about one of my favorite subjects! Having read parts of The Aeneid in Latin in high school and college, I was prepared to be nitpicking and disappointed at the inaccuracies, and it was only that this WAS Le Guin that I opened the book. I was not disappointed, and I was not nitpicking, either. If I was a Latin teacher, I would have my students reading this book (or at least excerpts from it) to help them understand the Latin religion and their treatment of household gods and the sacred places. Le Guin brings a new path to the story-telling process (which I won't spoil for you), allowing Lavinia to tell us her story from an odd angle. I enjoyed that almost as much as I was fascinated by the details of Latin life.
dhautaniemi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written, but it did seem to fall apart after the death of Aenaeus.
kelly_m_d on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really tried to get into this book. I did finish it, but the story jumped around so much that I felt like I lost the story in it. Maybe the book was just over my head or just not my type, but I found it more confusing than entertaining. I did really enjoy the storyline, it was just hard for me to follow it.
lwobbe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here the life of Lavinia, who weds Aeneas, is re-imagined by brilliant fantasy writer LeGuin. The author fills in the blanks Vergil created by his brief mentions in the Aeneid. Vergil plays a role, apologizing for leaving so much unwritten. An entertaining way to immerse yourself into Classical literature, with the added benefit of having a woman's point of view.
redswirl3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the beginning where the poet Virgil has conversations with his character that he created as he dies. Lavina also muses on whether she exists at all or is she only inside the mind of the poet? I like the way LeGuin fills out and develops Lavina into a strong character that was over looked by the poet Virgil. Lavinia is a wonderful book dealing with reality, power, and love from the point of view of a women. The book describes the daily life and scenery of pre-Rome Italy beautifully. I was swept away and into the lives of the characters found in this lovely historical fiction novel.