Picks and Pans Review: Always Coming Home

updated 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/06/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Ursula K. Le Guin

There may never have been another book quite like this one; the effect it has on the reader is hypnotic. Le Guin, author of The Eye of the Heron, The Beginning Place and many other sci-fi novels and stories, has created a unique civilization. It is fairly primitive in some ways, sophisticated in others. Le Guin has chosen a most original way to reveal this imagined land. The central narrative concerns one woman's life from childhood to old age. It is interrupted by charts with names of plants, of festivals, of the lodges that house extended families. These people have poetry, most of it concerned with nature, and they love romantic tales (given here in full) in which supernatural things occur. The various peoples have histories, and at their theater are plays with a chorus not unlike that of the ancient Greeks. Their favorite novel is Dangerous People, and a section of that, too, is included in this volume. Another section, "What They Wore in the Valley," is as fascinating as all the rest. The ritual of dying is called "Going Westward to the Sunrise." One of the characters advises another "that in writing the story I try to be as I was at the time of which I am writing." Le Guin's imagination is such that she is comfortable with all these people in a fictional time and place. Included in a box with the book is a tape of music created by Oregon composer Todd Barton. It sounds faintly Oriental and a bit like American Indian music, with whistling melodies, rhythmic clapping, bird sounds and vocals in an invented language (translation included). The illustrations for the volume, by Margaret Chodos, are not as successful as the music. But Le Guin produces word pictures far more vivid than any pen-and-ink drawing. (Harper & Row; $50, paper, $25)

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