Once a culturally rich world, the planet Aka has been utterly transformed by technology. Records of the past have been destroyed, and citizens are strictly monitored. But an official observer from Earth will discover a group of outcasts who still practice its lost religion-the Telling. Intrigued by their beliefs, she joins them on a sacred pilgrimage into the mountains...and into the dangerous terrain of her own heart, mind, and soul.
Earthling Sutty has been living a solitary, well-protected life in Dovza City on the planet Aka as an official Observer for the interstellar Ekumen. Insisting on all citizens being pure "producer-consumers," the tightly controlled capitalist government of Aka--the Corporation--is systematically destroying all vestiges of the ancient ways: "The Time of Cleansing" is the chilling term used to describe this era. Books are burned, the old language and calligraphy are outlawed, and those caught trying to keep any part of the past alive are punished and then reeducated. Frustrated in her attempts to study the linguistics and literature of Aka's cultural past, Sutty is sent upriver to the backwoods town of Okzat-Ozkat. Here she is slowly charmed by the old-world mountain people, whose still waters, she gradually realizes, run very deep. But whether their ways constitute a religion, ancient traditions, philosophy, or passive, political resistance, Sutty is not sure. Delving ever deeper into her hosts' culture, Sutty finds herself on a parallel spiritual quest, as well.
With quiet linguistic humor (Dovza citizens are passionate about their hot bitter beverage, akakafi--the ubiquitous Corporation brand is called Starbrew), dark references to the dangers of restricted cultural, political, and social freedom, and beautifully visualized worlds, award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin pens her latest in the Hainish cycle, which includes The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin explores her characters and societies with such care, such thoughtfulness, her novels call out for slow, deep attention. --Emilie Coulter