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Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was

(Kalpa Imperial #1-2)

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  990 ratings  ·  181 reviews
This is the first of Argentinean writer Angelica Gorodischer's nineteen award-winning books to be translated into English. In eleven chapters, "Kalpa Imperial"'s multiple storytellers relate the story of a fabled nameless empire which has risen and fallen innumerable times. Fairy tales, oral histories and political commentaries are all woven tapestry-style into Kalpa Imper ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published August 1st 2003 by Small Beer Press (first published 1983)
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Althea Ann
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Of course, I read this because it was translated by Ursula K. LeGuin.
I can see why she liked it - the book touches on many of the themes that LeGuin deals with in her own work.
As usual (actually, without a known exception) LeGuin will not steer you wrong. (I've started buying any book that I see LeGuin has blurbed, and they are ALL good.)

However, although the book is very good, it's not as good as LeGuin.

The book is a series of stories all set in an imaginary (but rather realistic) ancient empi
Richard Derus
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Real Rating: 3.75* of five

Review up tomorrow on my blog: Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud. It's a long one.
This set of short stories didn't wow me, but I did like a few of them quite a lot. There was only one story that I had a lot of trouble staying engaged in. I did really enjoy the Storyteller's voice as he relates a story about different rulers in the Empire. There was constant strife and violence in the Empire, but I particularly liked that Angelica Gorodischer did not focus on that, rather she focused on character. My favourite stories from this book were: "The Two Hands", "The End of a Dynasty ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
If you like Ursula Le Guin's work, it's worth trying Kalpa Imperial, even though Le Guin isn't the author, only the translator. She was obviously the ideal choice of translator for Gorodischer's style; there's no sense of distance from the story, or rather stories, that you often get with translations.

It's a bit of a strange book, a collection of connected stories that don't follow on from each other -- often the only link is in the common setting of the Empire That Never Was. Consequently, ther
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: unfinished
In some ways interesting, and with some clever writing. I'm simply not the right audience for a series of what are essentially unrelated descriptive works, often with little in the way of plot or character. ...more
Amy (Other Amy)
"Why are there so many sick people?"
"Because it's easier to get sick than to look for one's right place in the world."
"Explain, explain."
"Yes," said the doctor. "We keep adding needless things, false things to ourselves, till we can't see ourselves and forget what our true shape is. And if we've forgotten what shape we are, how can we find the right place to be? And who dares pull away the falsities that are stuck to his eyelids, his fingernails, his heels? So then something goes wrong in the ho
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Kalpa Imperial gathers 11 stories, each a piece of the history of the Greatest Empire That Never Was. The narrator, who seems to resemble the typical Medieval storyteller, narrates that the empire was destroyed and reconstructed several times. There were several imperial dynasties, good and bad emperors, and, what I liked the most: empresses.

I normally have issues with short stories because I tend to drift to other books that take more of my time. That didn’t happen with this book. There are so
Feb 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Disappointing. Reminiscent of Japanese Tales from Times Past with its folktales but lacking in anything that I'll remember next week. ...more
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Originally published in Spanish in Argentina in the early 1980s, Kalpa Imperial presents a cycle of tales set in a long-running fantasy empire. Ursula Le Guin's 2003 translation into English flows beautifully. In a 2004 interview (, the author welcomes comparisons to Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Franz Kafka; and discourages association of her work with magic realism. Indeed, the sprawling history of the empire's (current) capital, 'Concerning the ...more
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Definitely not a typical fantasy. More alike to a collection of origin myths,fables and historical recollection mostly made up by an eccentric story teller on the spot.
We get nothing more than snippets of the vast history of this great empire.
The delivery is very tongue in cheek, with a nice arrogant turn from the narrator, some of the historical facts border on laugh out loud while still being marginally believable.
So much becomes a comment on general history and culture.
The ending is a bit of
"...all power can do is silence people, keep them from singing, arguing, dancing, talking, brawling, making speeches and composing music. That's all. That's a lot, you may say, but I tell you it's not enough. For what power can keep the earth from speaking to people? What weapons can keep water from running and stones from rolling? What artillery can keep a storm from crouching on the horizon, ready to burst?"

I'm nowhere near being a history buff or anything but I really like reading history
Zen Cho
Jan 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: in-translation, sff
Now, is this voice Gorodischer, or Le Guin? Presumably Gorodischer, but the style is so very much that of a female sff fan/writer of a certain era that I wonder. I mean, I guess since it's a translation quite a lot of Le Guin had to get into it.

I liked this one less than I thought I would. Some parts of it are good -- I liked the Empress Abderjhalda and the last story with the princess and the twentier (some kind of desert guide) who tells her stories based on the Iliad and Odyssey, peopled with
I'm uncertain how to review this, because I feel like I read it at the wrong time. I'm hurriedly grading papers right now, so when I sit down to read a book, I need something that immediately sweeps me away. This is not that kind of book. Kalpa Imperial is a history of a fictional empire as told by a storyteller. The storyteller takes different periods of history and moves from broad descriptions to personal histories. Each chapter takes up an entirely different period of history.

Certainly, a un
Jul 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
This book is amazing. It's a fantasy, it's a history, it's a novel while simultaneously being a collection of short fiction; it's some of the most beautiful prose I've ever read. The use of language is gorgeous, fluid and lovely. The stories are confusing, enlightening, heartbreaking, wonderful. I absolutely adored this book. Ursula K. Le Guin is possibly my very favorite writer, and here she's translating for Angélica Gorodischer, who seems to be the Argentinian version of a Le Guin. This book ...more
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic book of stories about an empire so real that you will believe that you live there. A touch magical realism, a touch fantasy, and enough real-ness that it works all so well together. My good friend mailed this one to me and I really appreciate it because I am currently fascinated with the death of story-telling and what it will take to bring it back into its rightful role in society and this book reminding me first that storytelling is not dead and second it has so much to gi ...more
Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated
This is an early front runner for "most peculiar book I read in 2016"...Not really a proper novel but a series of connected short stories forming the history of an Empire. I found the lack of chronological order confusing, but otherwise the book was quite fetching and had a lot to say on the nature of history and story telling. It reminded me a lot of Italo Calvino's. I'm going to have to think on it some more before reviewing it further. I also find it fitting that was translated by Ursula K. L ...more
A collection of stories that's set in a fictional empire. My primary reason for picking this up was that it was translated by Le Guin and how it has semblance to the Hainish Cycle. There are subject matters that are fascinating to Le Guin's fans and one can see the similarity there. And that's also where the similarity ends. The author chooses to tell stories as if they were legends, folktale or lore that was passed down in families. They have no clear structure but a passing commentary on a civ ...more
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: slipstream
There must be the seeds of twenty different epic stories in this book. Gorodischer wrote Kalpa Imperial as two volumes twenty-five years ago, but the English translation (by Ursula le Guin) is fairly recent. Early on, I could feel le Guin's style creeping in (not unfavorably), but the author's own air of mystery and myth suffused every page. Very satisfying. ...more
Megan (ReadingRover)
This book wasn’t really for me. I couldn’t get fully into it. I find that I tend to like more cohesive novels. I like to get a solid foot hold and invest in the characters and storylines. I’m not a short story person. I got bored reading one short tale after another. Some were enjoyable and had real impact but many fell short and were unable to really make an impression.
I did like the way the book was written and the language that was used. I also enjoyed the atmosphere set by the storyteller.
Books like this are incredibly hard to review. I normally like to write a synopsis in my reviews and there’s not really a way for me to do that. Although billed as a novel, Kalpa Imperial is better read as a collection of semi-related short stories. These are unlike any other collection of short stories I’ve read before though. These stories are a beautiful collection of oral folk-tales about the imaginary exploits and history of an empire that never existed. They weave together the rise and fal ...more
Joan Guldin
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Not all is said."

This is a collection of short pieces about a fictional empire throughout different time periods, focusing on different characters from all strata of society (or even not upon any single character, but a place), each told orally by a different storyteller (or storytellers). It reminded me so much of the short pieces of Borges and Italo Calvino - hinting at infinity through lavish specificity, getting the reader to imagine more than what has been said in black and white so that t
DeAnna Knippling
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A cycle of tales that follows an insolent boy's discovery that some abandoned, post-apocalyptic ruins are not as dangerous as they were thought to be, to a young boy begging even more ancient stories from a caravan guide in the desert.

I thought this was supposed to be a story of "an ancient land that never was." You know what? I am coming to suspect that phrase is a flag for meta-humbuggery. I don't want to spoil the book, but this story isn't what it pretends to be. Even though this was transla
Bogi Takács
Apr 26, 2014 rated it liked it
(3.5 stars)

It started off *very* strongly, but the mythic/fairytale style really ran out of steam around two-thirds of the way into the book. The last two stories were a slog for me, and the overlap with the real world seemed pointless and was tedious to read. I still didn't regret that I picked up the book, but I was also somewhat relieved when it was over.

Also, I must say that while the book features a positive depiction of crossdressing, it also has multiple random and unexpected homophobic,
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I don't understand this book. I read it again after reading it about 10 years ago. I still don't understand it.

I loved the book though. I'll read it again.

Gorodischer is able to make the politics and history of the greatest empire seem insignificant. That was interesting. In some of the chapters, all of the bells and whistles of the great empire are overshadowed by the characters, and she spends even less time on the characters. I don't understand how she is able to do that. I'm not sure if it w
This is one where I feel guilty for not liking the book better. I loved the writing and found many of the individual stories compelling, but ultimately I wanted something a little more connected and structured. But that clearly isn't what the author was trying to produce. They wanted something more drifting and dreamlike, and they succeeded in writing that. I'm just not convinced the result will stick in my head. If it does, I may end up adding a star. ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A spectacular piece of Argentine speculative fiction, as sprawlingly imaginative as anything from Borges or Calvino or Kafka. These interconnected stories about a hypothetical empire are delightful as much for the literary range on display as for the tender and grandiose tales they weave. For anyone fond of history or speculation or worldbuilding, this book is a must-read.
Paul Hartzog
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, fiction, le-guin
Translated by Ursula Le Guin, and highly recommended. I am utterly unable to say why I loved reading this. It is not my "thing." There was nothing that stuck out that I can remark upon. Nevertheless, all along I had the distinct feeling that I was reading something profound and deep and powerful and very very real. I'm going to buy it, and read it again... and again, and again... ...more
Oct 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I loved it. At first I kept trying to tie the stories together better, but if you just accept each one for what it is, they begin to come together on their own. Each a play on govt and human nature and society with a lot unsaid. She trusts her audience to imagine a little.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Alternately fantastical and weird, kind of a short story collection but all tied together... I adored the writing even when the subject matter wasn't to my taste. This is just a great book to pick up if you're tired of the usual same-old same-old fantasy fare in American bookstores. ...more
Brianne Reeves
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
For the most part, these stories get better as the book goes on. Though they don't always connect or build off of one another, they focus on a general theme: power, it's acquisition, and what motivates the powerful. An interesting read. ...more
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Angélica Beatriz del Rosario Arcal de Gorodischer es una multipremiada autora argentina reconocida como una de las figuras femeninas más importantes dentro de la Ciencia-Ficción y Fantasía iberoamericana, aunque ha trabajado otros géneros.

Traducida al alemán y al inglés (en este idioma la traductora fue Ursula K. Le Guin), es autora de una docena de novelas y multitud de relatos.

Other books in the series

Kalpa Imperial (2 books)
  • Kalpa Imperial. Libro I: La casa del poder
  • Kalpa Imperial. Libro II: El imperio más vasto

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“Why say 'the world is complicated' and stop there? I say the world is complicated but not incomprehensible. Only you have to look at it steadily. Isn't it true a person's shoulder hurts sometimes because they've got a disorder in their stomach? And then what does a stupid doctor do? Order massages for the shoulder. What does a wise doctor do? He takes time to think about it, watches the patient carefully, gives him some medicine for his stomach, and the pain in his shoulder goes away. Better yet, he explains to his patients what they have to do to keep their stomach from getting out of order. One day his patient's going to get old and die, just like himself, just like us, and one day, incredible as it may seem, the Empire's going to die, and how foolish people are who whine about it, and whine about how complicated the world is. A seamstress's room is complicated too, but even at night, with the lights out, she can reach out in the darkness and find the yellow thread, the needles, the pincushion. We couldn't, because we don't know the order things are in, in the seamstress's room. And we can't see the order the world is in. But all the same it's there, right under our eyes.” 8 likes
“As the wise say, a sensible man looks after his garden, and a coward looks after his money; a just man cares about his city and a crazy man cares about the government; and a wise man studies the thickness of fern-fronds.” 4 likes
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