Andrew's Reviews > The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Sep 01, 11

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The Word for World is Forest should be taught in schools. I thought I was a pretty big Ursula Le Guin fan. I’ve read The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven and they are all among my favourite SF novels. I also have all of my son’s Earthsea books stacked on my bedroom bookshelf waiting for the right time. I’ve read a large number of her short stories; of which The Day Before the Revolution is a personal favourite. Yet, somehow, I had never heard of The Word for World is Forest ("Forest") until I saw it on Alberto Manguel’s top-100 list. Forest made me cry. The novel uses the colonization and exploitation of a lush world and its “alien” inhabitants as an unsubtle metaphor for both environmental ethics (or the lack thereof) and American intervention in South East Asia (Forest was published in 1976). But, while the novel’s subtext is virtually text, its prose and structure are both subtle and elegant. Ms. Le Guin’s use of three distinct and opposite first-person narrators shades what should read as black and white into intriguing shades of grey. There’s never any doubt that the exploiters are evil, but even the worst viewpoint character is, unfortunately, all too recognizably human. Ms. Le Guin plants you so deeply into her viewpoint characters’ psychological and emotional realities—in such deft and deceptively simple ways—that the reader is left no choice but to empathize; even when reactions and decisions seem so wrong. Forest is a tragic, yet uplifting humanist fable—rewarding in unexpected ways.
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