Books on GIF #17 — 'The Dispossessed' by Ursula Le Guin


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'The Dispossessed' by Ursula Le Guin.


Shevek is a brilliant physicist from the planet Anarres who is developing a series of equations and space/time theories that will revolutionize interstellar travel. It's seemingly based on the philosophy of Rust Cohl, with time being a flat circle and all that.

Anarres is a dust planet organized like the ideal communist state. Everyone does what they want provided they do communal work every so often, men and women are equals, there's no property, and there's universal education. But there's also bureaucracy and jealousy, and that's what stifles Shevek's groundbreaking work and turns people against him. He figures his best move to finish his theory, which would unite all the human peoples throughout the universe* in brotherhood, is for him to travel to the nearby planet of Urras to work with scientists there. One problem, everyone on Anarres hates Urras because that world is based on:

So, yes: 'The Dispossessed' is a Cold War novel set in space.  The evils of capitalism and the imperfections of socialism are critiqued as Shevek navigates the strange land where he's come to work and live. I couldn't help but think of 1985's 'White Nights,' where Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines explore the same issues through dance — and where Baryshnikov does this insane split:

The organization of this book was interesting. The chapters alternate between Shevek's past on Anarres and his present on Urras, which was an interesting mashup of the space-time continuum, like current Britney doing carpool karaoke to classic Britney.

One thing I do love about Le Guin's books is that you get to know her protagonists intimately. You really get inside Shevek's mind and are with him as he thinks and works through his problems.**

The communism versus capitalism stuff felt a little dated here, but the book still has much to tell us about gender, politics and true human freedom. Still, it was a tad boring.

'The Dispossessed,' by Ursula Le Guin, was originally published in 1974, and in 2002 by the Gollancz imprint of the Orion Publishing Group. 319 pages.

My rating:

What's next? In the coming weeks I'll review 'Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life,' by William Finnegan, 'The Sympathizer,' by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and 'Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories,' by Robert Walser, among others.

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* Earth, or 'Terra,' plays a small but important part in the story.
** This was really well done in her masterpiece 'The Left Hand of Darkness,' which is the only book where I nearly cried at the end.