Ursula K. Le Guin's The Telling

"none of them had quite realised that among the Akans there were no foreigners. There had never been any foreigners, until the ships from the Ekumen landed.

It was a simple fact, but one remarkably difficult for the Terran mind to comprehend. No aliens. No others, in the deadly sense of otherness that existed on Terra, the implacable division between tribes, the arbitrary and impassable borders, the ethnic hatreds cherished over centuries and millennia. 'The people' here meant not my people, but people -- everybody, humanity."

Seeking escape from the tyranny of her native Earth on which a powerful group of religious fundamentalists have declared "one God, one Truth, one Religion" and enforce their views by murdering those who disagree, Sutty trains to become an Observer for the interstellar Ekumen and travels to the distant planet Aka to learn about its people and culture. During Sutty's sixty-light-year trip between Earth and Aka, however, the Akans develop a state religion of their own, centred not on theism but materialism, yet every bit as dogmatic as the regime which Sutty left behind.

Sutty arrives on Aka to find the old ways of the planet which she had studied outlawed, the languages she had learned banned and the texts which she had read burned. She arrives to do the work of a historian on a planet who has thrown out its history. When, after months of frustration during which the only "literature" she can find to document is the propaganda of Aka's Corporation State, Sutty is called in to speak with her supervisor, the Ekumenical Envoy, Sutty feels certain that she is being sent away. As a student of literature and history, she is not useful to the Ekumen on a planet which has neither. The Envoy, however, has a surprise for Sutty. After fifty years of denying freedom of movement to offworlders; fifty years of keeping them confined to the large cities where the Corporation State's officials can monitor their contacts and access to information, the Envoy has been granted permission by the Akans to send one member of his team to a small village upriver from the main city centre in which they have heretofore been confined. Sutty is his choice to make the trip.

Thus begins Sutty's journey into the hidden history of Aka; a journey which brings her face to face not only with the demons of Aka's past but also with those of her own. As she comes to understand and to love the people of her new home and to cherish their ways, she learns of the culpability of her own people in the horrors which have been committed on Aka and, as she watches further destruction of the old ways in the wake of her travels, she is forced to ask herself if her own presence is a danger to what remains of this ancient culture.

In The Telling Ursula K. Le Guin has crafted yet another masterpiece in her well-loved Hainish cycle. Flowing seamlessly between stories of Sutty's past on Earth, her adventures on modern Aka and the fables of Aka's banned old religion "the Telling", Le Guin weaves a tale of human culture, emotion, suffering and triumph over adversity which is both familiar and alien.

Le Guin's words, as always, are beautiful and concise. As Sutty, finally, is forced to confront her enemy and to face his humanity, The Telling engages the reader, not in the sense of an action-thriller, but as a work of intelligence and passion which seeks to examine the very heart of what it is to be human.