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Orsinian Tales: A Library of America eBook Classic

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Orsinia... a land of medieval forests, stonewalled cities, and railways reaching into the mountains where the old gods dwell. A country where life is harsh, dreams are gentle, and people feel torn by powerful forces and fight to remain whole. In this enchanting collection, Ursula K. Le Guin brings to mainstream fiction the same compelling mastery of word and deed, of story Orsinia... a land of medieval forests, stonewalled cities, and railways reaching into the mountains where the old gods dwell. A country where life is harsh, dreams are gentle, and people feel torn by powerful forces and fight to remain whole. In this enchanting collection, Ursula K. Le Guin brings to mainstream fiction the same compelling mastery of word and deed, of story and character, of violence and love, that has won her the Pushcart Prize, and the Kafka and National Book Awards. - The Fountains - The Barrow (October 1976, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) - Ile Forest - Conversations at Night - The Road East - Brothers and Sisters (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol.10, Nos.1&2) - A Week in the Country (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol.9, No.4) - An die Musik (1961, The Western Humanities Review, Vol.XV, No.3) - The House - The Lady of Moge - Imaginary Countries (1973, The Harvard Advocate)


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Orsinia... a land of medieval forests, stonewalled cities, and railways reaching into the mountains where the old gods dwell. A country where life is harsh, dreams are gentle, and people feel torn by powerful forces and fight to remain whole. In this enchanting collection, Ursula K. Le Guin brings to mainstream fiction the same compelling mastery of word and deed, of story Orsinia... a land of medieval forests, stonewalled cities, and railways reaching into the mountains where the old gods dwell. A country where life is harsh, dreams are gentle, and people feel torn by powerful forces and fight to remain whole. In this enchanting collection, Ursula K. Le Guin brings to mainstream fiction the same compelling mastery of word and deed, of story and character, of violence and love, that has won her the Pushcart Prize, and the Kafka and National Book Awards. - The Fountains - The Barrow (October 1976, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) - Ile Forest - Conversations at Night - The Road East - Brothers and Sisters (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol.10, Nos.1&2) - A Week in the Country (1976, The Little Magazine, Vol.9, No.4) - An die Musik (1961, The Western Humanities Review, Vol.XV, No.3) - The House - The Lady of Moge - Imaginary Countries (1973, The Harvard Advocate)

30 review for Orsinian Tales: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    I am going to be devastated on the day that I see Ursula K. Le Guin's obituary in the papers, and this book is one of many reasons why. This is some of the best prose that I've read recently. She writes like Batman fights: no jazzy wire-fu whirl and leap, no showy moulinette pirouette lunar gravity twirl--just the right phrase in the right place at exactly the right time. I am going to be devastated on the day that I see Ursula K. Le Guin's obituary in the papers, and this book is one of many reasons why. This is some of the best prose that I've read recently. She writes like Batman fights: no jazzy wire-fu whirl and leap, no showy moulinette pirouette lunar gravity twirl--just the right phrase in the right place at exactly the right time.

  2. 5 out of 5

    J. Wootton

    Ursula has mastered me again. This collection, set mostly in the troubled, fictional Eastern-European country of Orsinia during the early-mid 1900s, is rife with the political philosophy that make Le Guin's work so thematically poignant; yet it's told with such attention to characters, depicted with such a sparse brush, that the reading experience is something like wandering through an art gallery. Almost entirely absent are elements of science fiction or fantasy, making this the perfect collectio Ursula has mastered me again. This collection, set mostly in the troubled, fictional Eastern-European country of Orsinia during the early-mid 1900s, is rife with the political philosophy that make Le Guin's work so thematically poignant; yet it's told with such attention to characters, depicted with such a sparse brush, that the reading experience is something like wandering through an art gallery. Almost entirely absent are elements of science fiction or fantasy, making this the perfect collection to introduce someone otherwise wary of those genres to Le Guin's writing. Meanwhile, the rest of us may simply find it a refreshing return to earth.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John

    It takes a certain skill to write short stories. It takes a different skill to write novels. Some novelists are dreadful short story writers and some short story writers can’t write novels for toffee. Ursula K LeGuin falls into that slim category of writer who commands the skills of both the novelist and the short story writer – and much else besides Although she is better known for her science-fiction, LeGuin has turned her hand to many different genres and forms over the years. In her stories f It takes a certain skill to write short stories. It takes a different skill to write novels. Some novelists are dreadful short story writers and some short story writers can’t write novels for toffee. Ursula K LeGuin falls into that slim category of writer who commands the skills of both the novelist and the short story writer – and much else besides Although she is better known for her science-fiction, LeGuin has turned her hand to many different genres and forms over the years. In her stories from the imaginary central European country of Orsinia she focused her talents on historical fiction. The 11 stories that make up the Orsinian Tales are each set in a different historical period from 1150 (“The Barrow”), by way of 1640 (“The Lady of Moge”), to 1965 (“The House”). However LeGuin’s interest in politics and recent history, and her romantic vision, lead her to focus on the 20th century. The book opens with “The Fountains” of Versailles in which Dr Kereth, a cytologist, without planning it, finds himself with the opportunity to seek political asylum in France, escaping from the communist state that Orsinia has become by 1960. His choice is typically Ursuline – by which I mean not obvious, but one hundred per cent believable. The book closes, appropriately, with “Imaginary Countries”, a lovely little account of the last days of a summer holiday that resonates with warmth and a nostalgia for childhood. In between, the stories visit people in different classes of society, in different periods, but all struggling with universal human issues. Birth and faith in “The Barrow”, love and longing especially in “Conversations at Night” and “Brothers and Sisters”, sanity and murder in “Ile Forest”. There is a search for freedom in many of the stories, perhaps most in “The Fountains” and “The Road East”, loyalty and betrayal figure in “The Lady of Moge”, exclusion and inclusion in “A Week in the Country”, the art of knowing and being oneself is another theme of “Brothers and Sisters”. In “An Die Musik” the focus is the creative impulse itself: Why write (in this case music) in a world where creativity has dubious economic value and bestows no material power? Although each story contains indications of the period of time in which it set, each story also concludes with a year, and sometimes if you’re not sure exactly when the story is taking place coming across the date at the end can cause you to re-evaluate what you’ve read. For me in particular “Imaginary Countries” is made all the more poignant by discovering at the end that the story is set in 1935. Immediately I find myself calculating: Stanislas is 14 so he’ll be called up to the army in three or four years and find himself fighting perhaps against a German invader, perhaps alongside German allies in the Second World War. And what will happen to Josef and his future at the seminary? What will happen to Paul and Zida and the Baroness? Although at least one of the stories, “An Die Musik”, was first printed as early as 1961 (it was LeGuin’s first published short story), the Orsinian Tales were collected and published in 1976. Of her science fiction, LeGuin has said she often writes a short story as a lead-in to writing a novel, or as a pendant piece to a novel completed. On first glance, the Tales fit this scenario, preceding by three years the 1979 release of Malafrena. Malafrena, LeGuin’s first published historical novel, is also set in Orsinia, sometime in the middle of the 19th century. But appearances can be deceptive. In her essay “A Citizen of Mondath” (Foundation #4 1973), she describes the Orsinian stories as her way into creative writing, the means by which she learned her craft. By 1961 she had written four novels set in Orsinia, none of which she could publish. Her shift into writing science-fiction, which took place in that same year proved the door to publishing success, but she never forgot Orsinia, and I for one am glad of that. The Orsinian Tales are a good read, and good to re-read. I’ve just re-read them now after a break of at least 10 years – and I first read them in 1980 – and I testify that they hold up. At the end of “An Die Musik”, the protagonist Ladislas Gaye thinks about music in a way I believe it is relevant to think about writing. What good is music? None… and that is the point. To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, ‘You are irrelevant’; and, arrogant and gentle as a god to the suffering man it says only, ‘Listen.’ For being saved is not the point. Music says nothing. Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build themselves, that they may see the sky. I like to think that good writing does that too. And by that criteria – as by many another – LeGuin’s writing is good writing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amanda--A Scientist Reads

    I never thought I'd find a Le Guin story I didn't care for and while some of the short stories in this collection are okay, the majority just didn't feel like her writing and left me disappointed. I'm unsure if this is strictly because the writing actually was different or because I enjoy her SFF writing so much and this more "real life" world left the characters seeming dull by comparison to others she's created. I'll always be a Le Guin fan, and name her as a favorite author of all time, but e I never thought I'd find a Le Guin story I didn't care for and while some of the short stories in this collection are okay, the majority just didn't feel like her writing and left me disappointed. I'm unsure if this is strictly because the writing actually was different or because I enjoy her SFF writing so much and this more "real life" world left the characters seeming dull by comparison to others she's created. I'll always be a Le Guin fan, and name her as a favorite author of all time, but even if you love a writer, this book, for me, is proof it doesn't mean you'll love EVERYTHING they write, no matter how talented they are.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This little book of short fiction is so beautiful I have no words. My copy is old. I bought it in 1989, a reprint as it was published 11 years earlier. This is not Science Fiction, set in an imaginary Eastern European country the stories range from 1050 to 1963. Le Guin writes of ancient tragedies, murder and war, of the innocence of children playing in a wood, of families, of love and of hate. She writes of simple things and gives them great meaning. She helps me to see in this dark time that t This little book of short fiction is so beautiful I have no words. My copy is old. I bought it in 1989, a reprint as it was published 11 years earlier. This is not Science Fiction, set in an imaginary Eastern European country the stories range from 1050 to 1963. Le Guin writes of ancient tragedies, murder and war, of the innocence of children playing in a wood, of families, of love and of hate. She writes of simple things and gives them great meaning. She helps me to see in this dark time that things can be much worse than they are now (as I write in my beautiful, comfortable house full of books) and I tell myself I can get through this. I am fortunate and I shouldn’t complain, just get on with it and do my job. Her writing makes me hope for a time when things are better. This is why I read I guess.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    I guess I have to give this one star, since I couldn't finish it, though it's not as bad as all that. Ursula LeGuin is one of my favorite authors, because of the sociological and psychological realism of her works. What this book teaches me is that I like it best when her realism is balancing fantasy. Here, where the stories are more kitchen-sink realism, it was just too hard for me to care about the dreary characters, or the dreary worlds they inhabited. Of the stories I read, the first was the I guess I have to give this one star, since I couldn't finish it, though it's not as bad as all that. Ursula LeGuin is one of my favorite authors, because of the sociological and psychological realism of her works. What this book teaches me is that I like it best when her realism is balancing fantasy. Here, where the stories are more kitchen-sink realism, it was just too hard for me to care about the dreary characters, or the dreary worlds they inhabited. Of the stories I read, the first was the strongest. It takes place in a medieval country still precariously balanced between Christianity and paganism, and that tension is played out with economical, graceful prose. It is also the story a takes place far from LeGuin's own experience -- a lot of other stories in this volume are set in or near the '60s -- supporting my belief that the more outside actual experience, the more I like LeGuin's work.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne

    I'm a big fan of Ursula LeGuin: her fantasy/sci fi; her essays, her writing guides; her translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I've read the last three Januaries and will probably reread this next year. And now, Orsinian Tales, which are historical fiction, sort of, set in a fictional Eastern European country. Stories are "randomly" presented rather than organized by time. Many are set in the first part of the 20th century, but the earliest is set in the 12th century. As she says, these stories I'm a big fan of Ursula LeGuin: her fantasy/sci fi; her essays, her writing guides; her translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I've read the last three Januaries and will probably reread this next year. And now, Orsinian Tales, which are historical fiction, sort of, set in a fictional Eastern European country. Stories are "randomly" presented rather than organized by time. Many are set in the first part of the 20th century, but the earliest is set in the 12th century. As she says, these stories are "linked by theme, image, and ongoing cultural and historical forces more than by simple chronology" (Kindle 3297). These stories are spare, and most characters live in poverty, as LeGuin described, in a country "trashed" by Hitler, one that Stalin was now trashing. Furniture, food, transportation, and heat were rare. Some quotes: You said there are unpardonable crimes. And I agree that murder ought to be one. And yet, among all men, it was the murderer whom I loved, who turned out in fact to be my brother. (Kindle 595-597). “Nothing is evil, nothing is wasted, if only we look at the world without fear!”—then he broke away and stood up. “The only way to do that is go blind.” (Kindle 1168-1169) An active man, the strongest and most intelligent worker in the quarries, a crew foreman since he was twenty-three, he had had no practice at all at idleness, or solitude. He had always used his time to the full in work. Now time must use him. He watched it at work upon him without dismay or impatience, carefully, like an apprentice watching a master. He employed all his strength to learn his new trade, that of weakness. (Kindle 1349-1352) What good is music? None, Gaye thought, and that is the point. To the world and its states and armies and factories and Leaders, music says, “You are irrelevant”; and, arrogant and gentle as a god, to the suffering man it says only, “Listen.” For being saved is not the point. Music saves nothing. Merciful, uncaring, it denies and breaks down all the shelters, the houses men build for themselves, that they may see the sky. (Kindle 2416-2419) She had thought of herself as one born for few, passionate friendships, out of place at the polite and cheerful dinner-tables and firesides of his life. Now she thought she had not been out of place, only envious. She had begrudged [her ex-husband] to his friends, she had envied the gifts he gave them: his courtesy, his kindness, his affection. She had envied him his competence and pleasure in the act of living. (Kindle 2544-2547) “Do you think I wish it said that I sold her courage to buy my safety? Do you think she’d go if she knew what I am giving for her freedom?" (Kindle 2749) In stark contrast to the starkness of their environments and the political climate they are living in, these characters struggled, sometimes unsuccessfully, with existential decisions and moral choices. As a result, these stories feel like a series of movements in a symphony, setting the stage and building toward climax. But all this happened a long time ago, nearly forty years ago; I do not know if it happens now, even in imaginary countries. (Kindle 2933-2934)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    Before accepting any critical judgments in this review, the reader should be advised that the reviewer reads very few short stories and only rarely picks up an anthology of such. The very fact that Orsinian Tales is such an anthology should signal something special with regard to my previously indicated preference. I picked up Orsinian Tales simply because of my respect for the author. Her fantasy work is extremely valuable and I was curious as to this anthology of more realistic stories, even t Before accepting any critical judgments in this review, the reader should be advised that the reviewer reads very few short stories and only rarely picks up an anthology of such. The very fact that Orsinian Tales is such an anthology should signal something special with regard to my previously indicated preference. I picked up Orsinian Tales simply because of my respect for the author. Her fantasy work is extremely valuable and I was curious as to this anthology of more realistic stories, even though set in a fictional (apparently Eastern European) country. To be sure, the approach of combining stories of medieval families with Cold War/ Police State families in the same small section of a countryside reminiscent of some parts of Poland, Belarus, Rumania, or another is an intriguing string upon which to string these beads of story ideas. One can also be certain that Ursula K. LeGuin’s deft hand at revealing what is truly human in her characters does not fail when she removes it from the land of fantasy. The shifting of time in what seems to be random directions also keeps one reading and guessing. We not only shift from time-to-time but from social class to social class—though the stories may predominantly focus on the peasant/proletarian class with a few exceptions. Though I will share some terrific lines from the stories (and they are by no means exhaustive representations of the elegant writing), I found the collection to be generally depressing. Of course, by choosing such a gray, cold setting, I’m sure LeGuin intended this anthology to be depressing. I’m sure she saw the triumph of the human spirit in most, if not all, of the often ambiguous and unsatisfying “endings” of the stories. The endings are realistic. One has to make up one’s own mind how they are to go. Yet, they didn’t work for me at this time. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes, I can’t deal with the stories of W. Somerset Maugham—in spite of their power. Indicative of the tone throughout the stories, the following description of a man’s wife should illustrate: “She can’t understand, he thought, because she lives inside, she’s always looking out the window but she never opens the door, she never goes outside….” (p. 72) That description is true both literally and figuratively for that character. And how sad, at least to me, it is! In another story, the whole history of Western Civilization is indicted and futility decried when one character asks: “’What would we do with freedom if we had it, Kosta? What has the West done with it? Eaten it. Put it in its belly. A great wondrous belly, that’s the West. With a wise head on top of it, a man’s head, with a man’s mind and eyes—but the rest all belly. He can’t walk any more. He sits at table eating, eating, thinking up machines to bring him more food, more food. Throwing food to the black and yellow rats under the table so they won’t gnaw down the walls around him.” (p. 133) In spite of the racist overtones at the end, the hopelessness seen even in freedom is an overarching cloud of emotional mist. However, there is an interesting mix of destruction and hope in a poem or hymn which is quoted on p. 166: “’It is Thou in thy mercy that breakest down over our heads all we build, that we may see the sky: and so I do not complain.’” That is a strange and though-provoking cocktail of philosophy and faith. Yet, it seems organically true. Unfortunately, for me, that was as uplifting as these stories ever became. And it is on that particular personal bias, that I rate this volume lower than most people would.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I just reread this and had to change my assessment. Each of the stories, set in the fantasy country of Orsinia, which is planted firmly in the history of our real world, was exceptional, brilliant, tender, personal, and delightful. My main complaint is that I wanted to know more about all the people and their stories. I wanted whole novels about every single one of the stories. Nevertheless, despite their too-short nature, each was long enough to give me enough information that I came to care ab I just reread this and had to change my assessment. Each of the stories, set in the fantasy country of Orsinia, which is planted firmly in the history of our real world, was exceptional, brilliant, tender, personal, and delightful. My main complaint is that I wanted to know more about all the people and their stories. I wanted whole novels about every single one of the stories. Nevertheless, despite their too-short nature, each was long enough to give me enough information that I came to care about the characters and feel empathy for them. UKL is a marvelous writer. I'm so glad I reread this collection.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    I’ve finished Malafrena last night, after many months of walking away, reading other things, coming back to it, walking away again, etc. I stuck with it because it’s Le Guin, and I know she has something important to tell me. Upon reflection this morning, what has stayed with me is how much depth and life she has given to the story of a political prisoner, whose story could have been captured only around his imprisonment, but whose life was so much more. That I as a reader had to make such an ef I’ve finished Malafrena last night, after many months of walking away, reading other things, coming back to it, walking away again, etc. I stuck with it because it’s Le Guin, and I know she has something important to tell me. Upon reflection this morning, what has stayed with me is how much depth and life she has given to the story of a political prisoner, whose story could have been captured only around his imprisonment, but whose life was so much more. That I as a reader had to make such an effort in the end gives the story greater value. I’ve only read one of the Orsinian Tales so far, but plan to read them all in time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    My friend and I have had an ongoing discussion about Cloud Atlas and Years of Rice and Salt, both of which range through vast swaths of time but with very different agendas. This book, and series of mostly unconnected stories set in the same fictitious country located in the middle of the real central Europe, makes a fine addition to that conversation: from the medieval past to the present (the late 1960s, in this case), the events in the lives of a few mostly inconsequential people is set again My friend and I have had an ongoing discussion about Cloud Atlas and Years of Rice and Salt, both of which range through vast swaths of time but with very different agendas. This book, and series of mostly unconnected stories set in the same fictitious country located in the middle of the real central Europe, makes a fine addition to that conversation: from the medieval past to the present (the late 1960s, in this case), the events in the lives of a few mostly inconsequential people is set against the backdrop of modern Western history, ever so slightly refracted. Brilliant stuff.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sentimental Surrealist

    This doesn't seem to be one of Le Guin's more widely-read works, which I think is a bit of a shame. As I see it, this has to do with the fact that it's not speculative fiction, which in the eyes of many readers means it's "not Le Guin," or at the very least not interesting Le Guin. Now, I think that outlook is pretty damn questionable; yes, this is mostly a stab at realism, although "The Lady of Moge" feels like a folktale, but a more realist Le Guin =/= a Le Guin book that's less worth your tim This doesn't seem to be one of Le Guin's more widely-read works, which I think is a bit of a shame. As I see it, this has to do with the fact that it's not speculative fiction, which in the eyes of many readers means it's "not Le Guin," or at the very least not interesting Le Guin. Now, I think that outlook is pretty damn questionable; yes, this is mostly a stab at realism, although "The Lady of Moge" feels like a folktale, but a more realist Le Guin =/= a Le Guin book that's less worth your time. In the intro to my edition of The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin herself admits that sci-fi is less about trying to predict the future as trying to explain the present. so it's cool if, for instance, Star Trek begat the cellphone or automatic doors, but that's less important than how Star Trek engaged with the social issues of its time. Or maybe Le Guin's Hainish cycle will come true and people will spread across multiple planets and all the other stuff, but what matters more is how the protagonists of Left Hand and The Dispossessed and the others in that cycle I haven't read reflect the people and problems of our planet, right? That's not to say Gethen, Anarres and Urras are exact reflections of the United States or Le Guin's home in Oregon or even the whole of planet Earth, but it is certainly to say that these novels' protagonists, much lie the people of the United States and Oregon and Earth, are concerned with connection. Which is to say Le Guin asks questions of connection, or to put it in less academic terms (you can take the bookish twenty-something out of the MFA program, but you can't, well you know the rest), Le Guin's characters struggle to connect, and the conflicts come when the connections fail. Just like people on Earth. Really, Orsinian Tales is the same way. Le Guin isn't so much the prophet of the future as an excellent and estimable chronicler of us as we are now. Her characters grapple with their prejudices (the running theme of both "Conversations at Night" and, in a different way, "Brothers and Sisters"), deal with the boot-heel of authority (In "A Week in the Country," the characters' efforts to live out their idyll are increasingly interrupted by a sort of Gestapo), and, as in the incandescent and terrifying "The Barrow," struggle with basic survival. But they try so hard to reach each other, to carve out these moments of connection amid their struggles. Which we also see all over The Dispossessed and especially the Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin's biggest strength is rendering realistic and believable and complex human relationships, and she renders it particularly well here. I mean, "Ile Forest?" Now that story is a ride. Jesus Christ I felt so many ways reading it, and the ambiguous note it closes on is evidence of how fucking great Le Guin is. I'd wager it's the strongest piece here. The violence at the climax of "The Barrow" is also quite well-rendered, devoid of sensationalism and much more sensitive to the characters' inner states than the basic blood and guts. Meanwhile, the love stories of "Brothers and Sisters" and "Conversations at Night" avoid melodrama and caricature; they're grounded enough in grim economic realities and sprinkled with enough humor, beautiful sentences, and the flavor of a real culture with real mores, customs, and fears to just fucking rock. A couple don't do as much for me. "An Die Musik's" characters seem rather like cutouts, a pitfall she handily avoids elsewhere. I mean it's pretty much J. Jonah Jameson chewing out yr basic sensitive artist, not a terribly great story. "The Room's" doomed romance and totalitarian undertones are effectively done in isolation, but they don't add a lot to the collection. However, when she's on, and she's on about three times as often as not, she crafts excellent work here. And that's why Orsinian Tales is an essential piece of the puzzle. There are no far-flung planets, no spaceships or disintegrating realities. There is a fictitious country, although it's never named as such, and even then is based on Central Europe, but that's as far as that sort of thing goes. Yet, like all Le Guin's work, it's about people and their hopes and their shortcomings. This book is badass, basically.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    These eleven tales set in the Ten Provinces of the imaginary country of Orsinia are bleak yet beautiful, vivid but melancholic, tinted with the grey dust of limestone plains, the wet surfaces of urban streets, and the golden light of autumnal groves. Peopling these landscapes are quarrymen, nobles, musicians, factory workers, doctors, academics; whether eking out their lives in the Middle Ages, the Thirty Years War, or the tumultuous years of the twentieth century, characters speak of the fragili These eleven tales set in the Ten Provinces of the imaginary country of Orsinia are bleak yet beautiful, vivid but melancholic, tinted with the grey dust of limestone plains, the wet surfaces of urban streets, and the golden light of autumnal groves. Peopling these landscapes are quarrymen, nobles, musicians, factory workers, doctors, academics; whether eking out their lives in the Middle Ages, the Thirty Years War, or the tumultuous years of the twentieth century, characters speak of the fragility of human existence, of their cautious optimism and of individual heroism. Writing during the long postwar period of the Cold War Ursula Le Guin invests her subjects with the humanity they deserve, allowing us episodic views of a land that draws not on one specific country but from many Central and Eastern European polities; extraordinarily she depicts an entirely credible geographical entity rooted in reality, despite telling us in the final tale in this collection, set in 1935, that all this happened a long time ago, nearly forty years ago; I do not know if it happens now, even in imaginary countries. Her stark landscapes are incorporated in Peter Goodfellow's cover design for the first UK paperback edition: a snowy countryside inspired by the Bruegels shows a distant tower, Vermare Keep, above which corvids wheel; breaking the whiteness are poles topped by what may be platforms for stork nests or for exposing human bodies; closer is the curve of a burial mound and, nearer still, a cairn from which protrudes a sword, the stones stained by fresh blood from which rooks tug bits of flesh. This illustrates the second tale, 'The Barrow', with its ideological conflict between the Church and what it sees as heresy, and behind that an older religion. Before this tale 'The Fountains' describes an academic's brief savouring of intellectual and physical freedom from state surveillance during a 1960 visit to Versailles in Paris, a piece which sets the theme of the collection: Adam Kereth's specialism is cytology, the study of individual cells in a body, and a discipline which intentionally echoes Le Guin's intention for the themes in Orsinian Tales. It's the only story set outside Orsinia, for throughout what follows we embark on a tour of the country's provinces -- Sudana and Montayna, the Northern Marches, Polana, Molsena, the Western Marches, Perana, Kesena and Sovena, and Frelana -- with many tales also featuring the capital, Krasnoy. I could spell out at length the strengths of each individual piece but that would rob potential readers of the delight of discovering them themselves, so instead I shall mention a couple of features that most impressed me. Many of the tales were focused on relationships, whether sibling (as in 'Ile Forest') or heterosexual ('The House') or homosocial ('A Week in the Country'); whether characterised by familiarity, or tragedy, or regret, the lives portrayed are ones one can't help feeling empathy and compassion for. Music is another strand running through the collection: an early short story, from 1961, borrowing its title from a Schubert song 'An die Musik', is a meditation on the creative process, while song refrains emerge in 'Conversations at Night' and in 'A Week in the Country'. Orsinia itself represents a third strand -- its provinces, its geographical variety tempered by human activity, its Mitteleurop climate: A long cloud slowly dissolved into a pinkish mist in the eastern sky, and then the sun's rim, like the lip of a cauldron of liquid steel, tipped over the edge of the world, pouring out daylight. -- 'Conversations at Night' Seemingly separate narratives, the eleven tales in the collection are linked through the recurrence of certain localities and, in a couple of pieces, through one family across generations. Above all there is a uniformity of sensitivity, observation and tone which makes this book far more than the sum of its parts. I've now read Orsinian Tales three times since the 1970s, and it's a measure of its intrinsic quality that I've appreciated it even more each time. For those who see Le Guin as only a author of speculative fiction here is evidence of a great lyrical writer, one who also has much to say about an individual's contribution to the river of being: For heroes do not make history -- that is the historians' job -- but, passive, let themselves be borne along, swept up to the crest of the tide of change, of chance, of war. -- 'The Lady of Moge'

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    I can see why this might not get as high a rating as Le Guin’s Hainish or Earthsea books— it’s not SF, its characters aren’t as immediately memorable, the arc, such that it is, doesn’t sort itself chronologically, or along any one line— but she writes “mainstream fiction” by inventing an Eastern European country and following it through centuries of birth, growth, change, failure, survival, death, and it’s powerful, and the way she handles place— so specific, so real, even as it invents, even as I can see why this might not get as high a rating as Le Guin’s Hainish or Earthsea books— it’s not SF, its characters aren’t as immediately memorable, the arc, such that it is, doesn’t sort itself chronologically, or along any one line— but she writes “mainstream fiction” by inventing an Eastern European country and following it through centuries of birth, growth, change, failure, survival, death, and it’s powerful, and the way she handles place— so specific, so real, even as it invents, even as it’s universal— is the type of worldbuilding that fascinates me, and it’s a revelation of how to write sociologically but through a microscope lens, tender and personal, and where the line between history and alt-history can go, and it’s worth more than a dozen how-to books on craft or voice, these beautiful glimpses, these stories. It doesn’t fit into genre, but it found its audience: me. I treasure the gift of this Orsinian world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell

    Umm. What the heck was that? Basically a collection of mostly disconnected short stories set in Eastern Europe. The stories are dark and vaguely pointless. The language and writing I'm sure is considered beautiful by others but I didn't see it. A trudge to get through. Where something non-fiction based in a similar setting might have worked better for me. No real ideas, no real truth. Just unrelenting drudgery. And so that there is less confusion - this is not science fiction, this is not fantas Umm. What the heck was that? Basically a collection of mostly disconnected short stories set in Eastern Europe. The stories are dark and vaguely pointless. The language and writing I'm sure is considered beautiful by others but I didn't see it. A trudge to get through. Where something non-fiction based in a similar setting might have worked better for me. No real ideas, no real truth. Just unrelenting drudgery. And so that there is less confusion - this is not science fiction, this is not fantasy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    E.A.

    Interestingly different from the other books by Le Guin I've read, but recognisable in style and in the essential fragile but real humanity that is crafted in the world she describes. Interestingly different from the other books by Le Guin I've read, but recognisable in style and in the essential fragile but real humanity that is crafted in the world she describes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Edward Rathke

    Though Ursula K Le Guin is undoubtedly one of my favorite writers of all time, this is only the second collection of hers I've read, which actually isn't super unusual, since I rarely read collections. But this is a very atypical work for Le Guin, as it's essentially realism. It has the feel of a late 19th century writer, especially people like Turgenev. The only fantastic element to the collection is that these stories take place in an imaginary country. It actually makes me understand why she en Though Ursula K Le Guin is undoubtedly one of my favorite writers of all time, this is only the second collection of hers I've read, which actually isn't super unusual, since I rarely read collections. But this is a very atypical work for Le Guin, as it's essentially realism. It has the feel of a late 19th century writer, especially people like Turgenev. The only fantastic element to the collection is that these stories take place in an imaginary country. It actually makes me understand why she ended up translating Kalpa Imperial by Angelica Gorodischer, which is also about things happening in an imaginary country. Odd that these books were written around the same time, too. Anyrate, this isn't my favorite of Le Guin but these stories are so beautiful and subtle that I imagine I'll carry some of them with me a long time. They're almost exclusively about normal people living in central europe. People who work in factories, who live small lives in their towns and cities. It's an interesting look at the grit and grime of poverty in the industrial world, though there are also stories that take place in the distant past. Those were actually my favorite, I think, and one of them is the most brutal and shocking stories I've read in a long time. I liked this collection a lot but I likely won't read the novel that's also set in this country. Le Guin's prose is so gorgeous here, maybe the best I've read by her, but I prefer to see her playing with new worlds. These are great and could easily stand against any other realist story collection, but those just aren't my thing so much right now.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Schmacko

    Ursula K. Le Guin writes in such a prosaic way here. She's such a good writer, but the disconnected stories, the several narrators within the same story, and the longish prose often makes these stories more difficult and poetic than jaunty and concise. Her Orsinia is a fictional rural world - middle European - but very much a part of our world; this isn't Le Guin's scifi at all. These disconnected stories skip around different time periods and families to tell of Orsinia's people. Many of the ch Ursula K. Le Guin writes in such a prosaic way here. She's such a good writer, but the disconnected stories, the several narrators within the same story, and the longish prose often makes these stories more difficult and poetic than jaunty and concise. Her Orsinia is a fictional rural world - middle European - but very much a part of our world; this isn't Le Guin's scifi at all. These disconnected stories skip around different time periods and families to tell of Orsinia's people. Many of the characters have beliefs that get challenged. In various ways, each character is both right and wrong. Oftentimes, their myhologies keep them unhappy or make them miss happiness. That is the thread that connects these bucolic tales; the humans search for their own utopian ideals - their Orsinian concepts - and what their searches lead them to.

  19. 4 out of 5

    DeAnna Knippling

    A collection of short stories about alternate Czech lands that never were. I didn't dislike any of these, but a lot of these felt like the author hadn't hit her stride yet. Lots of irony, lots of elements that came out of the blue but seemed obvious in retrospect, lots of opportunities for me to cluck my tongue at people who didn't have the gumption to seize happiness--or who were turned into examples by this or that structure of power, and had rather unfortunate fates. You can see the bones of h A collection of short stories about alternate Czech lands that never were. I didn't dislike any of these, but a lot of these felt like the author hadn't hit her stride yet. Lots of irony, lots of elements that came out of the blue but seemed obvious in retrospect, lots of opportunities for me to cluck my tongue at people who didn't have the gumption to seize happiness--or who were turned into examples by this or that structure of power, and had rather unfortunate fates. You can see the bones of her later works, but you can see a heavy hand with her influences, too. Recommended if you're a Le Guin completist, or like New Yorker stories.

  20. 5 out of 5

    5greenway

    Bumper collection, including the historical novel Malafrena, short story collection Orsinian Tales and a couple of extra short stories to boot. Brilliant, convincing world creation, of a world more close to home than usual. Could have gone wrong and ended up as a dry parody of European novelists, but sidesteps that with grace and passion. Great stuff.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Callum McAllister

    A decent collection. My favourites were "An Die Musik" and "The Lady of Moge". Besides that, no standout stories in particular but just the gift of managing to conjure a convincing land - this time a "real" country baked into European history. A decent collection. My favourites were "An Die Musik" and "The Lady of Moge". Besides that, no standout stories in particular but just the gift of managing to conjure a convincing land - this time a "real" country baked into European history.

  22. 5 out of 5

    victoria.p

    The prose was beautiful, because it's LeGuin, but I just couldn't work up any interest in any of these characters. The prose was beautiful, because it's LeGuin, but I just couldn't work up any interest in any of these characters.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anders

    "He was trying for irony but achieved only agony." So I picked this up at my library's used book store for 10 cents, woo big bucks! I loved the cover and thought this might be another of Le Guin's foray into fantasy perhaps in a medieval setting. I didn't bother to research the book much, but it turned out to be quite different. Only two of the stories are set near "medieval" times, the rest are 20th century tales of central/eastern European slice of life stuff. They're in fake countries but ther "He was trying for irony but achieved only agony." So I picked this up at my library's used book store for 10 cents, woo big bucks! I loved the cover and thought this might be another of Le Guin's foray into fantasy perhaps in a medieval setting. I didn't bother to research the book much, but it turned out to be quite different. Only two of the stories are set near "medieval" times, the rest are 20th century tales of central/eastern European slice of life stuff. They're in fake countries but there's nothing fantastical about it or even elseworld, it's just not ours except when it is. Having given a less than enthusiastic overview the stories are well-written and poignant at times, but not particularly spectacular. For short stories they are vibrant in their own ways, depicting every day life and how people struggle to cope and/or rise above their circumstances. I hate to give Le Guin only 3 stars because she really is a skillful writer and these stories display that: there's very competent articulation of characters and their instincts and beliefs--Le Guin is rather good at this. The settings often evoke the history of central/eastern Europe in meaningful ways--Le Guin is also good at this. I just wasn't that crazy about it. Lovers coming together, people trying to make a life-it's all just mundane stuff that I like to avoid as much as possible. But Anders, you say, how can you be so callous?? Well, dear reader, it's because I get to choose what my preferences are; and so do you! So let's make this compromise I'm proposing: These stories are well-written and worth reading. They are poignant tales with dramatic themes that don't suffer from any of the cliches of poor writing. The two set in the 12th century and the 17th century are quite great. The Lady of Moge plays with notions of honor and fidelity across genders-I liked it a lot. The Barrow deals with the transition from paganism to Christianity and the hold of old customs and encroachment of new-a stark tale. An Die Musik relates what a unifying force music can be and how life pushes on with or without it. Ile Forest recalls Wuthering Heights in its dilapidated mansion and cruelly flawed protagonists, but ultimate triumphant perseverance. Others are very forgettable. The ones about lovers I can do without although Conversations at Night has some things to say about disability in an industrial city, Brothers and Sisters-how personalities conflict, familial bonds strengthen or dissipate, and people either conform to society or find another way, and A Week in the Country summons the absurdity of living under totalitarian regimes. In general, there is some nice play with urban vs. rural living. So there. All that stuff is well done. It's a fast read so it's easily recommendable. Nevertheless! I am selfishly giving this 3 stars because I want to read SOMETHING ELSE. And if you really want to read Le Guin, you should read the Earthsea series. And if you've already read that, then you should read her scifi stuff. I've read The Left Hand of Darkness but I haven't even read the Dispossessed or The Lathe of Heaven not to mention any of the other stuff in the Haimish cycle, etc. So only read this if you're all about them short stories, you want some light fare, or you're real crazy about historical fiction and slice of life type chill stories. I think I want a rounded out novel with fleshed out characters and stuff I can really get into right now. I mean, what I read this because I wanted a quick read so I should be more generous. But anyway, for what it is, it's great. And again, I love the cover.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Ursula Le Guin is primarily known as a writer of Sci fi and fantasy and this collection of stories (1 novel and 13 short stories) rides a delicate line between speculative and historical fiction. Setting the collection in a fictional central European country, primarily throughout the upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gives the author the space to explore recurring themes (revolution, frustrated idealism and the lives of ordinary people caught up in history to name a few) withi Ursula Le Guin is primarily known as a writer of Sci fi and fantasy and this collection of stories (1 novel and 13 short stories) rides a delicate line between speculative and historical fiction. Setting the collection in a fictional central European country, primarily throughout the upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gives the author the space to explore recurring themes (revolution, frustrated idealism and the lives of ordinary people caught up in history to name a few) within a more real-world setting. Most of the stories are amongst her earliest works, with the exception of the story "Unlocking the Air", a kind of fond farewell to the setting and among the collections strongest entries. This does mean that the writing isn't as refined as her more popular work. Some of the short stories are spectacular, "The Lady of Moge", "The Fountains" and, "Imaginary Countries" being my personal favourites. However, some of the other stories are less engaging and bring down my overall opinion of the collection. For example, "Conversations at Night" and "The Road East" felt long winded and a tad meandering. Maybe it's just a personal distaste for the kind of sprawling, family saga type stories, that feel a bit detached and impersonal to me with no central emotional focus to latch on to. The Novel, "Malafrena", sits somewhere in the middle in terms of quality. There are certainly moments of beautiful description and characterisation. Several moments such as the climactic scenes of the main character's arc are brutally well-written. However, the overall story can feel a bit disjointed and rather slow paced. It's meant to be realistic in tone so it makes sense that the characters' lives don't follow simple, heroic arcs and take a while to develop, but it does make it hard to always see "where all this is going". Overall, this is definitely worth reading for fans of Ursula le Guin, though I wouldn't recommend it as a first or second entry to her work. Fans of historical fiction who want to dip their toes into fantasy (and vice versa) will get a lot out of this. As I said, many of the short stories are fantastic so any fan of good writing will enjoy them.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julia Morelli

    This was a strange read for me. Although Le Guin's stories are often short, it's the first time I read stories so short by her. Actually, the first time I read short stories by someone who's not Argentinian, and the local authors have a very distinct style. Another unexpected factor is the fact that many of the writings revolve around romantic love stories, something rather unusual in what I've read of Le Guin's works. There's a lot of friendships and sibling stories aswell, but the romantic stor This was a strange read for me. Although Le Guin's stories are often short, it's the first time I read stories so short by her. Actually, the first time I read short stories by someone who's not Argentinian, and the local authors have a very distinct style. Another unexpected factor is the fact that many of the writings revolve around romantic love stories, something rather unusual in what I've read of Le Guin's works. There's a lot of friendships and sibling stories aswell, but the romantic stories caught my attention as it was something I hadn't seen that much in her work. As usual, she develops unique stories with interesting, appealing characters. The spanish name for the book is literally "Imaginary Countries" and I feel it fits very well the stories, all located in a made-up country that could very well fit in somewhere in eastern Europe. They span a period of around 60 years, exposing the effects of wars, revolutions and world politics in people's everyday life. As someone who's not a fan of short stories (and definitively loves long, well-built sagas), I found myself surprised at loving this anthology, and being able to relate to many of the characters throughout the stories. I am, however, left with a sense of insatisfaction, of wanting more, of needing to know what happened to them. All stories wrapped up very nicely, but still, I want to know more about this world. A very nice read for anyone who enjoys well built worlds with interesting characters!

  26. 5 out of 5

    feux d'artifice

    Hmmm my favourite stories from here do not compare to the other short stories i like from ursula k le guin in her other collections. Still, masterful writing, there's no equal to le Guin in this world. Hmmm my favourite stories from here do not compare to the other short stories i like from ursula k le guin in her other collections. Still, masterful writing, there's no equal to le Guin in this world.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Noy

    11 short stories, some of which are only ten or so pages. The fictional central European country Orsinia is not as interesting a setting as Earthsea or Hain, but the writing is beautiful. Le Guin can do in 10 pages what most can't achieve in a whole novel. 11 short stories, some of which are only ten or so pages. The fictional central European country Orsinia is not as interesting a setting as Earthsea or Hain, but the writing is beautiful. Le Guin can do in 10 pages what most can't achieve in a whole novel.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Beautiful, compelling collection of stories. And surprisingly, it’s not sci-fi or fantasy, but realism - further proof that Le Guin was a brilliant, endlessly versatile writer.

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Newcomb

    An excellent collection of short stories set in various ages in the fictional country of Orsinia. Orsinia is somewhere in central Europe but the stories span from the dark ages to the almost contemporary but all are really about the complex relationships within families.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Case

    The cover of this one is a bit of a cheat. Orsinian Tales is a slender paperback I found lurking on one of my sister’s crowded bookshelves. The front features a tall, snug castle with a medieval town nestled at is base. It’s pretty clearly a stock image, though a case could be made that it illustrates the penultimate story in the collection. The author is Le Guin, and if you didn’t know who that is the cover helpfully points out she’s the author of the Earths Trilogy and the winner of the Hugo a The cover of this one is a bit of a cheat. Orsinian Tales is a slender paperback I found lurking on one of my sister’s crowded bookshelves. The front features a tall, snug castle with a medieval town nestled at is base. It’s pretty clearly a stock image, though a case could be made that it illustrates the penultimate story in the collection. The author is Le Guin, and if you didn’t know who that is the cover helpfully points out she’s the author of the Earths Trilogy and the winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. It’s clearly marketed as a fantasy, though to be fair a careful reader of the back cover would notice that these tales are explained as Le Guin bringing “to mainstream fiction all the power and enchantment” that have made her so well known for science fiction and fantasy. Be warned though, if you pick up this book hoping for the magic of Earthsea, you’re not going to find it in the way you expect. This is a collection of Le Guin’s literary (“mainstream”) fiction. There aren’t dragons, old gods (despite what the cover says), spells, or enchantments of the ordinary, speculative kind. The stories in this sense are unexpectedly mundane. People grow up, fall in love, quarrel with their siblings, watch their country change, and have long conversations. Yet to call this mundane or lacking magic because it’s not genre fantasy misses the point entirely. What Le Guin is doing here is something a lot deeper and more beautiful because of, not in spite of its everyday nature. She convinces you of the magic of her fiction—basically showing you the wellspring of her own speculative work—in stories that are straightforwardly not fantastic literature. There are eleven stories in this collection, and they all loosely follow the history of a vague, eastern European country from the early days of Christianity to a long, indeterminate communist winter in a meandering, non-chronological fashion. None of them seem to explicitly fit together apart from their general locale, though there may have been deeper links that I missed. (Who was the defector of the very first story, and did the castle keep of the medieval murder reappear in the Lady of Moge?) None of them have any hint of science fiction or fantasy tropes. But all carry the magic of simple, real things lifted up and celebrated by the beauty and clarity of Le Guin’s prose. She’s saying something important here, something she lays out most clearly in the final story of the collection, “Imaginary Countries.” Once upon a time, she seems to be telling us with these tales, stories were written simply to be beautiful. They didn’t have to have a hook or an unforeseen twist. They didn’t have to turn the world on its head or capture the reader with a completely unexpected concept or angle. They only had to be lovely and draw on a magic that was history and humanity itself. These are what the stories in Orsinian Tales do, and they do it very well. They are stories with magic, but the magic is the deep and dangerous magic of the every day. Deep because it surrounds the characters she creates and dangerous because they’re all swimming in it, surrounded by it, and swept away. Dangerous because we’re in the midst of it as well, and we ignore it to our peril. Sometimes fiction— especially fantasy— is passing through the looking glass. Le Guin doesn’t do that here. Instead she does something more difficult. She opens a window.

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