Four Ways to Forgiveness

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Ursula LeGuin

GENRE:
Sci-Fi, Short story

SUMMARY:
This book contains four linked novellas set in the same part of the galaxy over slightly different moments in its history. The stories revolve around the inhabitants of Werel, a slave-owning male-dominated planet, and those of its colony planet Yeowe.

When the Ekumen, the diplomatic union of other planets and civilizations, comes to Werel, the established social hierarchy is turned on its head. Although the Werelians want to join the Ekumen, they are painfully aware that the organization does not approve of their well-established slavery practices.

On Werel, you are either an asset or an owner. You are either a man or a woman. You are a Werelian or from Yeowen. The category you belong to irrevocably determines your place in society. These four novellas portray the turmoil and eventual freedom that certain characters find in this catalystic setting.

RESPONSE:
As always, LeGuin writes elegant stories that weave subtle yet important themes. I admire the way she linked all these novellas together, not just with similar characters and setting, but with the theme as well. Oppression, freedom, and self-discovery were laced throughout Four Ways.

Unfortunately, the first of LeGuin's stories fell flat to me. "Betrayals" didn't seem to be an appropriate opening story, as it failed to explain most of the political undertones that affected its main characters. There's an appendix explaining the history of the planets in the back, but I prefer a novella to stand alone (or at the least on one leg). And yes, I know that these stories took place in LeGuin's established and popular Hainish universe. Unfortunately I am not familiar with that universe outside of Left Hand of Darkness. Thus, the opening story was disappointing and off-putting.

However, the remaining three stories were beautifully done, entertaining and thought-provoking. The change and personal growth of the main characters in "Forgiveness Day" was as equally as touching as Havzhiva's gradual understanding and advancement in "A Man of the People". And the final story "A Woman's Liberation", couldn't have been better written or more engaging as it told the story of Rakam, a slave woman who gains freedom but still must release herself from the shackles she has within her mind.

POINT BLANK:
A must-read if you're a LeGuin fan. If not, it's a bit more challenging as it takes place within worlds already well-established by the author in previous books. The themes and characters are elegant enough to compensate for this though (and there's always the appendix in the back!)