Daily Archives: 2024-07-07

A Hungry Journey to Light a Fire

I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin.

The planet Urras is orbited by it’s moon Anarres. 200 years ago anarchists inspired by the philosopher Odo left Urras and moved to the harsh frontiers of Anarres to be free and live a life without masters, property or law. They formed a new language without the bloody history of property baked into it. They struggled together and overcame together. But the door is shut. No one emigrates from Urras and no one emigrates from Anarres. Each is afraid of being infected by the other’s ideas.

“And nobody hungry?”

“Nobody goes hungry while another eats.”


“But we have been hungry. We have starved.”

Shevek is a brilliant physicist on Anarres, who wants to study, to learn, to create and to share the new ideas he’s created. He finds the support on Anarres wanes the further he goes from accepted norms and ideas. He finds that even on Anarres, there are centralized pockets of power. The revolution is never complete. In times of struggle, ideals are tested, power centralizes… And the center often holds.

“I got full rations: I earned them. I earned them by making lists of who should starve.”

He finds that his physics have a more receptive audience on propertarian Urras. We meet him as he climbs, empty handed, aboard a trade ship to spread his physics and his Odonian ideals on Urras.

More plot than most of her books, it still turns back into a person on a journey. Shevek is on a journey from his anarchic home to a capitalist world. What propels him from a simple world of shared struggles? Why leave? When he arrives can he accomplish his goals? Is there something he can do that the people there couldn’t do for themselves? Will he be trapped and neutralized by the soft prison of luxury?

And how can he return home? What awaits an anarchist who is seen to turn his back on the revolution?

I love the deep thinking about language and the practice of mutual aid in a land with few resources. I love the true struggle to stay good when the droughts hit. And the challenge that centralization and coordination always brings. Everything is dealt with in indirect ways that paint larger pictures just out of sight, beyond the edge of the book.

Highly recommend.