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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

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"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin The question that permeates Le Guin's 1969 sensational for its time novel about the ambisexual society is what remains once the male and the female labels are stripped away? What is underneath the labels - is it simply humanity?'Androgynous' - Which is how I could not help but picture the Gethenians."A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience."Like some readers, Genly Ai, the protagonist of this brilliantly written leisurely-paced cerebral sci-fi classic, for a while just cannot seem to move past the ambisexuality aspect. Ai is an ambassador to the planet Gethen to convince its leaders to join the interplanetary union Ekumen. The inhabitants of Gethen differ from other humanoid races in two aspects: (1) they have adapted well to tolerate the Ice Age climate of their world, and (2) they are ambisexual. For the majority of lunar cycle they are essentially neuter, and for several days they enter a sexual phase, kemmer, during which they attain either male or female characteristics and become capable of sex."What is a friend, in a world where any friend may be a lover at a new phase of the moon? Not I, locked in my virility: no friend to Therem Harth, or any other of his race. Neither man nor woman, neither and both, cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing under the hand's touch, changelings in the human cradle, they were no flesh of mine, no friends; no love between us." The landscapes of Gethen. Minus the Star Wars thingies.Ai, a male proud of his virility, does not feel comfortable among the Gethians. He is always suspicious, always mistrusting of these people whose essence he refuses to understand. He views himself as "a stallion in harness with a mule", chuckles at the idea of a pregnant King. He tries to view the Gethians as male, and is appalled at all the femininity that he sees in them, feeling that it is wrong, inferior, alien to him. In the world of wholeness, not of duality, he feels lost and isolated without the familiar stark division that rules our lives. After all, the first question that people immediately ask at birth is - boy or girl? Man or woman? [Sidenote: Remember the whole relatively recent conundrum about Canadian parents who decided to raise their child without telling the society the child's gender? They received death threats for that attempt, so ingrained is the gender division among us].Ai is not a bad guy. He is just lost, confused, and isolated - a human, in the other words. He is so out of his comfort zone he does not comprehend how to deal with the society that he views as passive, where there is less competitiveness, and where crying is perfectly fine. He finds it so hard to accept this world without the quientesential 'maleness' or 'femininity' - even though he struggles to define exactly what it is that separates men from women. Ai becomes so terribly isolated in his alienness, longing for something familiar. In this strange and unfamiliar world of wholeness, he clings to the eternal human "Us vs. Them" divide, refusing in his loneliness and fear to look beyond the usual, the prejudice. Until circumstances force him to get to know Estraven, and Ai finally sees in him "not a man's face and not a woman's, a human face."-------------------------------------------------------------------------"A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt."Therem Harth Estraven, in my opinion, is the true hero of this story. Estraven sees the promise that the union with Ekumen has for his world. In his attempts to help Ai, he becomes viewed as a traitor and ultimately sacrifices his life. But it takes a long time and many trials and tribulations for Ai to recognize Estraven for what and who he is - just HUMAN, to move past the uncomfortable and the prejudice and discover simple human love. "It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness... how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow."-------------------------------------------------------------------------The language of this book was initially a stumbling block for me. It was dry and very cerebral, making it difficult at first to become immersed in the story. But that was the language of Genly Ai, the man who was not meant to be likeable at the very start. But then I got to the first interlude - short and very poetic legends of Gethen which help shed light on the nature of this world and help us see the events of this story in a different context and different light. The beauty that Le Guin's language reaches during these interludes is breathtaking. The segments of the story written in Estraven's voice are also very distinct, very urgent, simple, and filled with so much dignity and quiet resolve that it made my heart leap and weep at the same time. -------------------------------------------------------------------------The Left Hand of Darkness is a deep story of humanity, love, betrayal, alienation, and acceptance. But it is not an easy book to read. It is not meant to take you on an exciting whirlwind ride. Instead its aim is to make the readers think and reflect. It may be slow to start, but it's hard to put down as well. I walked away from it feeling that a part of me has been changed forever - and for the better. I walked away from it with more questions than I had when I started - and that's a very good thing, as far as I am concerned. I initially gave it 4 stars for the slow start and Ai's initial unlikeability. Upon further reflection, I increase the rating to five stars. It fully deserves it. "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."