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Lavinia: A Novelby Ursula K. Le Guin
A living legend who leaps fearlessly across genre boundaries, Ursula Le Guin offers one of her very best novels to date in this retelling of Virgil's The Aeneid, told from a perspective that very often got lost in even the most compelling Greek myths: the female's. Far more than a feminist parable, Lavinia is a herculean feat of storytelling that will entertain readers no matter their sex.
Synopses & Reviews
In The Aeneid, Virgil's hero fights to claim the king's daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word in the poem. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.
Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner — that she will be the cause of a bitter war — and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to make her own destiny, and she tells us what Virgil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.
Lavinia is a book of love and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.
"In the Aeneid, the only notable lines Virgil devotes to Aeneas' second wife, Lavinia, concern an omen: the day before Aeneus lands in Latinum, Lavinia's hair is veiled by a ghost fire, presaging war. Le Guin's masterful novel gives a voice to Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, who rule Latinum in the era before the founding of Rome. Amata lost her sons to a childhood sickness and has since become slightly mad. She is fixated on marrying Lavinia to Amata's nephew, Turnus, the king of neighboring Rutuli. It's a good match, and Turnus is handsome, but Lavinia is reluctant. Following the words of an oracle, King Latinus announces that Lavinia will marry Aeneas, a newly landed stranger from Troy; the news provokes Amata, the farmers of Latinum, and Turnus, who starts a civil war. Le Guin is famous for creating alternative worlds (as in Left Hand of Darkness), and she approaches Lavinia's world, from which Western civilization took its course, as unique and strange as any fantasy. It's a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves's I, Claudius." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With her new novel, 'Lavinia,' fantasy and science fiction virtuoso Ursula K. Le Guin vividly fills in some of the blanks in Vergil's 'Aeneid.' She focuses this engaging novel on Aeneas' Latin wife, who is only sketchily depicted in the epic poem. In simple, stately prose that does no violence to Vergil's work, Le Guin presents the rough, unpretentious dignity of the ancient Latin pagans. She also... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) portrays daily life in the Bronze Age, some time after the 13th century B.C., when duty and responsibility glue the community together. No one is idle. Princess Lavinia oversees the cleaning of the royal dwelling, the storing of grains, the carding of wool, the washing — supervising and participating in the chores of running a sizable household. She is defined by her obligations to her family and her people, but she pushes back against those expectations. Of course, she is obliged to marry to cement an alliance profitable to her kingdom. But the oracle commands her to wed a foreign king. Here Le Guin employs Vergil as a ghostly time traveler who speaks to Lavinia in the sacred grove. He describes Aeneas, his heroism defending Troy, how he rescued his father, son and other Trojans from the burning city, how they wandered at sea for years, how he met the Carthaginian queen Dido, who killed herself for love of him, his landing in Sicily, his father's death and his arrival in Italy. With this heroic story, the poet entrances Lavinia, who returns to the grove repeatedly to converse with him. Consequently, Lavinia knows everything about her husband before he arrives. The question — how will she use this knowledge — is suspenseful. The answer — she will dismiss all her suitors except Aeneas, thus causing a war — moves the plot briskly along. Indeed, there is plenty of action in 'Lavinia.' Even her happy marriage is filled with musings cleverly ancient yet modern — most compellingly on the expectations of women. By telling this story from its heroine's clear, forthright perspective, Le Guin has taken the cipher that is Vergil's Lavinia and given her a new life. Eve Ottenberg is a freelance writer whose novel, 'Dead in Iraq,' will be published this fall." Reviewed by Eve Ottenberg, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Le Guin has researched this ancient world assiduously, and her measured, understated prose captures with equal skill the permutations of established ritual and ceremony and the sensations of the battlefield....Arguably her best novel, and an altogether worthy companion volume to one of the Western world's greatest stories." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[A] brilliant reimagining....As Le Guin's afterword acknowledges, this beautiful and moving novel is a love offering to one of the world's great poets, and former high-school Latin scholars may return to Virgil with a renewed appreciation. Highly recommended." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"[Le Guin] has heard voices and channeled them in the language of Lavinia herself. And this voice has something wonderful and strange to tell us." Los Angeles Times
"Le Guin, a five-time Hugo and Nebula Awards winner who's a practiced hand at creating entire worlds in her science fiction and fantasy novels, combines that ability with a prodigious amount of research." Christian Science Monitor
In The Aeneid, Vergil's hero fights to claim the king's daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in this novel set in the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.
About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin is the author of numerous short stories, essays, volumes of poetry, books for children, and novels. Among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
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