Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs

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Ursula K. Le Guin is one of a small handful of writers to be included in the Library of America while still alive. Only Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth share that honor with her. The first volume of Le Guin's work published by LOA is The Complete Orsinia, which includes her little-known novel Malafrena and a collection of stories and songs all set in the imaginary European country of Orsinia. 

The protagonist of Malafrena is a young revolutionary in an authoritarian country and most of Le Guin's Orsinian tales are concerned with questions surrounding human freedom and oppression. It is an early paragraph in her short story, "Unlocking the Air" I find speaking to me as I re-read her Orsinian tales and consider the very topical issue of civil disobedience. I'll leave thoughts and interpretations to you.

"This is a stone. It's a paving stone of square that slants downhill in front of an old, reddish, almost windowless fortress called the Roukh Palace. The square was paved nearly three hundred years ago, so a lot of feet have walked on this stone, bare feet and shod, children's little pads, horses' iron shoes, soldiers' boots; and wheels have gone over and over it, cart wheels, carriage wheels, car tires, tank treads. Dogs' paws every know and then. There's been dogshit on it, there's been blood, both soon washed away by water sloshed from buckets or run from hoses or dropped from the clouds. You can't get blood from a stone, they say, nor can you give it to a stone; it takes no stain. Some of the pavement, down near that street that leads out of Roukh Square through the old Jewish quarter to the river, got dug up once or twice and piled into a barricade, and some of the stones even found themselves flying through the air, but not for long. They were soon put back in their place, or replaced by others. It made no difference to them. The man hit by the flying stone dropped down like a stone beside the stone that killed him. The man shot through the brain fell down and his blood ran out on this stone, or another one maybe. It makes no difference to them. The soldiers washed his blood away with water sloshed from buckets, the buckets their horses drank from. The rain fell after a while. The snow fell. Bells rang the hours, the Christmases, the New Years. A tank stopped with its treads on this stone. You'd think that would leave a mark, a huge heavy thing like a tank, but the stone shows nothing. Only all the feet bare and shod over the centuries have worn a quality into it, not a smoothness exactly but a kind of softness like leather or like skin. Unstained, unmarked, indifferent, it does have that quality of having been worn for a long time by life. So it is a stone of power, and who sets foot on it may be transformed."
From "Unlocking the Air," chosen by bookseller Katia

The inaugural volume of Library of America's Ursula K. Le Guin edition gathers her complete Orsinian writings, enchanting, richly imagined historical fiction collected here for the first time. Written before Le Guin turned to science fiction, the novel Malafrena is a tale of love and duty set in the central european country of Orsinia in the early nineteenth century, when it is ruled by the Austrian empire. The stories originally published in Orsinian Tales (1976) offer brilliantly rendered episodes of personal drama set against a history that spans Orsinia's emergence as an independent kingdom in the twelfth century to its absorption by the eastern Bloc after World War II. The volume is rounded out by two additional stories that bring the history of Orsinia up to 1989, the poem "Folksong from the Montayna Province," Le Guin's first published work, and two never before published songs in the Orisinian language.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America's best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

Publication Date: 
September 6, 2016