Samadrita's Reviews > The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
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They should do away with these tags - science fiction, speculative fiction and all them other clever maneuvers designed to erect barriers between the strictly literary and the mainstream - when it's Atwood who is writing or a Le Guin. Woe betide anyone who begs to differ. This deeply entrenched contempt of the other and this instinctive loathing of anything we fail to understand after a perfunctory once-over are not only the center of the man-made hullabaloo of gender but the root cause of all friction in this very reality of ours.

A few years ago my cab had once been caught up in traffic at a crossing when I was taken unawares by somebody knocking on my window. I was startled at the discovery of the unexpected apparition who was the cause and source of this interruption - a sari-clad transgendered individual asking me for loose change. I must have flinched visibly because I recall the hopeful expression on his-her (see how our pronouns, too, betray the third sex?) face being gradually replaced by a look of mild mortification and apology. Apology for causing momentary distress to a young college-bound girl because apology is something owed only to the privileged and the ones born with society-approved sexual organs. Unable to successfully communicate, thus, he-she drifted away to another car window while I kept staring at his-her receding back, embarrassed at the sudden loss of my powers of speech. Fragments of this memory have risen to the surface of my consciousness time and again since then. But not until Le Guin familiarized me with Ekumen envoy Genly Ai and Gethenian citizen, ambisexual Estraven's mutual suspicion of each other was I able to pinpoint the cause of my visceral dread in that cab years ago. Like Genly and Estraven, I have been unknowingly initiated into the cult of fearing the unfamiliar.
"No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year."

I am the product of a patriarchal societal order which is only starting to awaken to the far-reaching implications of 'misogyny' and the sociocultural fallout of holding heteronormative gender roles in higher regard than humanity. 'Homophobia' is a term which is yet to acquire a firm foothold even in the imaginations of the Indian intelligentsia since both our judiciary and the executive have proselytized on the unnaturalness of loving whomever we want to. Maybe in a couple of decades we'll rectify this foolishness too.
But what about the members of the third sex, those hapless outcasts even our gender-biased language fails to address?

Our government believes that making it conventional for transgenders to extort money from parents of newborns at hospitals could pass for employment opportunities.* These young parents feel righteously terrorized by their appearance and breathe a sigh of relief after they have finished with their loud performances celebrating the birth of a healthy child and left with their 'payments'.
What seems less surreal? The daily enactment of this aforementioned ritual and the rationale (or lack thereof) behind it or Le Guin's ambisexual Gethenians who keep alternating between two genders?
Again, you and I will choose what we know of and discard what we don't.
"And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was."

Several realities clash violently every moment in this perplexing drama of life; which of them get to be bestowed with the stamp of normality and which of them get dismissed as aberrations depends on the will of the majority and what they identify with. And I can't imagine what could have been a more effective way of shedding light on this farce other than plotting this narrative the way Le Guin did - the meeting and eventual synthesis of two cultures, each fashioning its existence around contradictory value judgement systems.
"And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises: and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry."

I thank that anonymous person years ago, whose humanity we have whittled down to the distinctness of his-her gender, for causing me to take notice of injustices I help perpetuate every moment with my ignorance and indifference. And I have Le Guin to thank for helping me realize that the apologetic look should have been on my face that day instead of his-her, that I can either hide behind these inherited labels of race, religion, gender and nationality or I can aspire to the ambition of becoming a citizen of the world and, in turn, the Cosmos. As ever the choice lies with me. With us.
___

*Only recently (April, 2014) has the Supreme Court of India stirred awake and given legal recognition to the 'third gender' who had so far been deprived of their fundamental rights as citizens.
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Quotes Samadrita Liked

Ursula K. Le Guin
“How does one hate a country, or love one?... I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is the love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing.”
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


Reading Progress

June 24, 2013 – Shelved
June 24, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
June 24, 2013 – Shelved as: 1001-and-more
June 24, 2013 – Shelved as: by-women-who-matter
June 24, 2013 – Shelved as: in-by-about-america
June 24, 2013 – Shelved as: hugo-nebula-locus-awards
August 14, 2014 – Started Reading
August 14, 2014 – Shelved as: gender-studies-sexuality
August 14, 2014 – Shelved as: dystopian-fiction
August 14, 2014 – Shelved as: post-apocalyptic
August 14, 2014 –
3.0% ""...Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are.""
August 14, 2014 – Shelved as: omg-aliens
August 21, 2014 –
9.0% ""I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression.""
August 21, 2014 –
16.0% ""...only fear rules men. Nothing else works. Nothing else lasts long enough.""
August 21, 2014 –
25.0% ""If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. (...) But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion...""
August 25, 2014 –
40.0% ""All start equal. But obviously they don't go on so.""
August 28, 2014 –
70.0% ""I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing.""
August 28, 2014 –
96.0% ""He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve."\n "The Ekumen?" said Argaven, startled.\n "No. Mankind.""
August 28, 2014 – Shelved as: cherished
August 28, 2014 – Shelved as: adoration
August 28, 2014 – Shelved as: lgbt
August 28, 2014 – Finished Reading
August 29, 2014 – Shelved as: brain-fodder
August 29, 2014 – Shelved as: real-issues-fake-people
August 30, 2014 – Shelved as: sci-fi-speculative

Comments (showing 4-53)





message 53: by Ivonne (new) - added it

Ivonne Rovira I'd love to see the review. I always thought it was the first in the series. Clearly not.


Samadrita I'd love to write one, Ivonne. And even if you don't read the other books in the series, you'll be able to follow.


s.penkevich Stunning review. This is my boss' favorite book, anytime someone asks for a recommendation he rushes it into their hands.


Samadrita s.penkevich wrote: "Stunning review. This is my boss' favorite book, anytime someone asks for a recommendation he rushes it into their hands."

Your boss has good taste in literature. So I am guessing both of you get along. :)
Always good to find a comment by the elusive spenk.


message 49: by Arun (new) - rated it 5 stars

Arun Divakar Fantastic review Samadrita !


Samadrita Arun wrote: "Fantastic review Samadrita !"

Thank you, Arun. Happy to see those 5 stars as well.


message 47: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Beautifully written review Samadrita.


message 46: by Garima (new)

Garima I can relate and empathise with many things you have mentioned in your brilliant review, Samadrita. The notions related to transgenders is deeply rooted in our society which further extend to other discriminating evils and it will surely take more than Government's passing of several bills/laws to bring about the desirous change. The choice surely lies in our hands like you said. Great work as always and thank you for reminding me to read Le Guin posthaste.


Joseph Michael Owens I included this in my "top 10 books that have stuck with me over the years" list. The Hainish Cycle seems pretty solid, overall!


Samadrita @Lynne:-Thank you! Glad you liked it.

@Joseph:-I have a feeling this is going to be one of those memorable books for me as well. I wish I had enough time to read the entire series but as of now I'll have to make do with this one and The Dispossessed which is on my tbr. Thank you for reading.


Joseph Michael Owens If it makes you feel any better, the first 3 are really short and are often included in a single 370-page volume: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6...


Samadrita Garima wrote: "I can relate and empathise with many things you have mentioned in your brilliant review, Samadrita. The notions related to transgenders is deeply rooted in our society which further extend to other..."

I feel slightly better after fessing up to my own idiocy once upon a time. In the beginning I was a little detached from the narrative but Le Guin had my undivided attention by the end. This is a brilliant book and I am sure you will cherish the experience of reading it once you do, Garima. Thank you for your appreciation as always.


message 41: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I loved this book too, Sama, and I particularly love the angle you found for your review - I think Le Guin would applaud!


message 40: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill Awesomely self-critical review that reminded me of this book. I've been intending to read more LeGuin for years, ever since I read and loved her The Dispossessed, which also was not so much science fiction but fiction for people who liked to be challenged and prodded to think differently. This shall now be my next read by her whenever I get to it!


Samadrita Joseph wrote: "If it makes you feel any better, the first 3 are really short and are often included in a single 370-page volume: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6..."

Neat. And open library has an e-copy too. Thank you for the link and the information.


Samadrita Fionnuala wrote: "I loved this book too, Sama, and I particularly love the angle you found for your review - I think Le Guin would applaud!"

Glad you loved this too, Fio. Have you read The Dispossessed or any of the other books in the series?


message 37: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve I agree with your sentiments, Samadrita, and I, too, loved this book. The solution of the pronoun problem used by trans-people and their friends is simple: use the pronoun suitable for the gender the trans-person identifies with. It becomes very, very easy to do that in a very short time.


message 36: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Samadrita wrote: "Glad you loved this too, Fio. Have you read The Dispossessed or any of the other books in the series? .."

Because of those rigid categories you mentioned in your first paragraph, Sama, I've missed out on lots of great writers for years. Fortunately, a friend gave me this book a few years ago with the disclaimer: this may be science fiction but the writing is really good. That was my introduction to Le Guin. I meant to read more.....and I will.


Samadrita Steve wrote: "I agree with your sentiments, Samadrita, and I, too, loved this book. The solution of the pronoun problem used by trans-people and their friends is simple: use the pronoun suitable for the gender t..."

Such a simple solution and to think I never gave any transpeople-concerning issue much thought until now. I remember an award-winning trans Indian film director who confessed to believing herself female. Thank you, Steve.


Samadrita Fionnuala wrote: "Samadrita wrote: "Glad you loved this too, Fio. Have you read The Dispossessed or any of the other books in the series? .."

Because of those rigid categories you mentioned in your first paragraph,..."


I have loved science fiction for years yet somehow managed to miss Le Guin. No more.


message 33: by Dolors (new) - added it

Dolors Another thought provoking review of a book whose narrow categorization has limited its universality. I have been meaning to read Le Guin for months and to keep my exploration of Atwood and the way you mix your personal experience, with which I can fully relate to, and your quintessential voice of protest have given me enough reasons to buy this title which has been sitting on my wishlist for too long.


message 32: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Riveting poignancy, Sam. I'm a big fan of the perceptive analysis that you've delivered with such poise: "And I can't imagine what could have been a more effective way of shedding light on this farce other than plotting this narrative the way Le Guin did - the meeting and eventual synthesis of two cultures, each fashioning its existence around contradictory value judgement systems."

Tolerance and understanding of each other is how we get closer, I would opine.


message 31: by Veeral (new) - added it

Veeral Terrific review, Samadrita!


message 30: by Ian (last edited Aug 29, 2014 06:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Fantastic review of a favorite book, Sam.

I wonder whether the thing most wished for is to be spoken to and in the second person pronoun, "you".

The third person is only relevant when you describe the person to someone else afterwards.

Anybody know whether there are any languages in which the equivalent of "you" has gender options?


message 29: by Srinivas (last edited Aug 29, 2014 10:29PM) (new) - added it

Srinivas when i was reading 2001: A Space Odyssey, same thing happened with me. i thought its a sci-fi. But in the end it became a philosophical and moral monologue - what would happen when man encounters with universe or aliens.


wonderful review.

some of ours memories are already became stories. These events are like profound revelations.


Samadrita Cheryl wrote: "Riveting poignancy, Sam. I'm a big fan of the perceptive analysis that you've delivered with such poise: "And I can't imagine what could have been a more effective way of shedding light on this fa..."

Yes and the compulsion to analyze what our differences arise from and how we should reconcile ourselves to newer ideas and thoughts regardless of how alien to our sensibilities. Thank you as ever, Cheryl. Glad you liked it.


Samadrita Dolors wrote: "Another thought provoking review of a book whose narrow categorization has limited its universality. I have been meaning to read Le Guin for months and to keep my exploration of Atwood and the way ..."

You are back!!!!! :)

I almost missed your comment believing you couldn't post one yet. I look forward to your thoughts on both Atwood and Le Guin, Dolors. Both authors know how to spin a tale around real world issues and hit the right notes to achieve high emotional resonance with the reader's sensibilities. I know your reviews of their works will be a treat to look out for.
It was so great to find a comment from you, my friend, after a brief absence. Thank you.


Samadrita Veeral wrote: "Terrific review, Samadrita!"

Thank you, Veeral.


message 25: by Praj (new)

Praj Chinguya, since I have not much to offer as far as the book or author is concerned, all I'll say - DAEBAK!! :D I may or may not read this book, but you sure do make some noteworthy points of the third sex. Although not momentous, but the Indian government is taking baby steps in accepting the third gender in the acceptable quarters of the society. Now, only if they could eradicate the stigmatic terminology of homosexuality, I would feel a bit proud of my country :) Thanks.


message 24: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 29, 2014 11:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Samadrita Ian wrote: "Fantastic review of a favorite book, Sam.

I wonder whether the thing most wished for is to be spoken to and in the second person pronoun, "you".

The third person is only relevant when you descri..."


A relevant point, Ian. Steve thankfully though solved the pronoun conundrum...
In Japanese, the first person pronoun 'I' can have genders. Like 'Boku' is used by males while 'Watashi wa' is used by females. I am not sure about the second person though..
In Hindi, the second person pronoun isn't gendered but the accompanying verb (in some cases) can indicate the subject's gender.


Samadrita Louisa wrote: "They should do away with these tags - science fiction, speculative fiction and all them other clever maneuvers designed to erect barriers between the strictly literary and the mainstream - when it'..."

Louisa wrote: "They should do away with these tags - science fiction, speculative fiction and all them other clever maneuvers designed to erect barriers between the strictly literary and the mainstream - when it'..."

The narration was a bit drab and at times it didn't feel like it was going anywhere so I understand why you may have had a problem, Louisa. But by the end I was won over. Glad you liked the review.


Samadrita nomad wrote: "when i was reading 2001: A Space Odyssey, same thing happened with me. i thought its a sci-fi. But in the end it became a philosophical and moral monologue - what would happen when man encounters w..."

Yes I remember feeling awestruck and something almost spiritual at the end of the narrative. It is undoubtedly one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Thank you, Srinivas.


Samadrita Praj wrote: "Chinguya, since I have not much to offer as far as the book or author is concerned, all I'll say - DAEBAK!! :D I may or may not read this book, but you sure do make some noteworthy points of the th..."

Yes that landmark SC judgement..but I recently filled up a voter's registration form and there was no provision for the third sex if I remember correctly. But it's a start yes. It took them long enough to recognize their humanity. Hopefully from now on we'll see transpeople in our classrooms and workplaces and not simply in hospitals and traffic crossings. Thank you, chinguya.


Samadrita Jill wrote: "Awesomely self-critical review that reminded me of this book. I've been intending to read more LeGuin for years, ever since I read and loved her The Dispossessed, which also was not so much science..."

I almost missed your comment because I didn't recognize your profile pic! Nice one btw. :)

The Dispossessed is going to be my next read unless I decide to read the prequels in the Hainish Cycle series which is unlikely to happen.


message 19: by Sumirti (new) - added it

Sumirti Singaravel Wonderful review, Samadrita! And it is so true that most of our notions on trans-genders are appalling and there are few which makes us even to turn indifferent towards us. Thanks for pointing out how even our language has failed to provide us with a respectable way to address them. Will grab this book soon. :)


Samadrita Sumirti wrote: "Wonderful review, Samadrita! And it is so true that most of our notions on trans-genders are appalling and there are few which makes us even to turn indifferent towards us. Thanks for pointing out ..."

Thank you, Sumirti. Here's to hoping you like this one just as much as I did.


message 17: by Ivonne (last edited Aug 30, 2014 01:11PM) (new) - added it

Ivonne Rovira Samadrita wrote: "I'd love to write one, Ivonne. And even if you don't read the other books in the series, you'll be able to follow."

I need your advice. There are three types of series in the world -- from the readers' POV, anyway. One is typified by the Harry Potter series: If you don't read them in order, you don't know what hell is going on. The second is the complete opposite, typified by Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. You don't have to read them in any order, and they're all great. (Well, except for The Black Mountain. Ugh!) Lastly, there are those in between: You don't have to read Barry Maitland's Brock and Kolla series in order, but it's nicer if you do.

So where does The Left Hand of Darkness fall in this continuum?


Samadrita Ivonne wrote: "Samadrita wrote: "I'd love to write one, Ivonne. And even if you don't read the other books in the series, you'll be able to follow."

I need your advice. There are three types of series in the wor..."


As far as I know this is can be passed off as a standalone story which doesn't have any connection to the characters and events in the earlier installments, Ivonne. But if you want a firmer grasp over the nitty-gritties of the world in which the events take place, then you can check out the first 3 in the series which can be found in this single volume as helpfully pointed out by Joseph -Worlds of Exile and Illusion: Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions. Le Guin herself said somewhere that there's a clear connection between them but taken together they do not form a coherent whole or any such thing.


Agnieszka Fantastic review,Sam! I know LeGuin only from Earthsea but this one seems to me really must read. You've done here excellent job.


message 14: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal These young parents feel righteously terrorized by their appearance and breathe a sigh of relief after they have finished with their loud performances celebrating the birth of a healthy child and left with their 'payments'.

Your review brought back the memory of day when my son was born(almost 11 years now) and the appearance of transgenders at the door after I got back home. What I discreetly remember is the haste with which family members made them go away, of course after the money they asked was given them. A younger me then, felt terrorized by the way they seem to be carrying out their affair.

You are right in that there is much needed to be done when it comes to their rights, but I also cannot help think of the mischievous ways some of them seem to enjoy because of their different position in society. So, the effort is needed on both sides. There is a need of sensitizing both sides.


message 13: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal Great review, Samadrita!


message 12: by Jr (new)

Jr Bacdayan Touching and powerful review. I too once acted negatively towards persons of the third gender. But now I am glad to say that I have lots of friends ,whom I am willing to give my life for, who are proud members of the LGBT community. I have seen their hardships and I too condemn the abuses they get not only from the government but even from the people they love. This book, this review are such rays of sunshine on a field where many are under dark clouds. I give respect. You have written a beautiful review, but I must say that you are a beautiful human being, Samadrita.


Samadrita @Aga:-Thank you! I'd love to read your review of this.

@Rakhi:-I understand what you mean. My mother recently confessed to have been scared of them at the time of my birth as well but time and experience have managed to bring about reform in her views. I know not all of them behave admirably while extorting money but what is to be expected of the marginalised who have been pushed to the very edge of society? Few of us even consider them to be worthy of proper respect deserving of a human. Glad you liked the review.

@Jr:-I am so glad to know you will stand up for the rights of your friends, Jr. We need to take a leaf out of your book. All of us. Thank you for this wonderful comment and I can see this could only have been phrased by a considerate and wonderfully empathetic person. :)


Joseph Michael Owens Tangentially related: Just picked up a used hardcover copy of the 8th Hainish Cycle book today for $1.99, which I'm pretty excited about!


Samadrita Joseph wrote: "Tangentially related: Just picked up a used hardcover copy of the 8th Hainish Cycle book today for $1.99, which I'm pretty excited about!"

Hope you have a good time with it!


Cecily I find your review far more powerful than the book (which disappointed me).


Samadrita Cecily wrote: "I find your review far more powerful than the book (which disappointed me)."

Thank you, Cecily! Just read your own critical review of the same. And I did have similar issues in the beginning as well but the last quarter revealed Le Guin's true purpose of writing this and, suffice to say, it blew me away.


message 6: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean Fantastic review, Samadrita. Yet again, you include your own direct experience; a personal touch which makes it so much more powerful. Thank you.


Samadrita Jean wrote: "Fantastic review, Samadrita. Yet again, you include your own direct experience; a personal touch which makes it so much more powerful. Thank you."

Thank you, Jean. I missed your comment earlier somehow.


message 4: by Jasmine (new) - added it

Jasmine Starlight I love your review!


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