Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"The Barrow" and "Conversations at Night"

In Orsinian Tales (which isn't sci-fi, despite being written by Ursula LeGuin), LeGuin has created a fictional Eastern European country (Orsinia), and then written stories about its inhabitants at various times in history. The year the story takes place isn't revealed until the very end, which is interesting. So far, it's ranged from 1150 to 1960. Le Guin really captures that kind of old forest, secretive feel that I think we all associate with Eastern Europe, as well as the danger of Communist times when appropriate. I'm about half way through, and some of the stories are certainly better than others. So far, my two favourites are "The Barrow" and "Conversations at Night."

"The Barrow" takes place in 1150, and it just feels so medieval. It looks at the conflict between Christianity and paganism, and specifically focuses on a chief in the region. His wife has been in labor with their firstborn for a very long time, and he's getting nervous. But what can he do to help? He already has a midwife, and he's not even allowed into the room (since this is women's business). Meanwhile, he's hosting a traveling priest as a guest, and the priest sees everything in black and white, or in his case Christian or heathen. Through fireside conversations, the chief and his men argue with the priest, all the while trying to ignore screams from the women's quarters. It's pretty short, at twelve pages, but the atmosphere is just perfect.

My other favourite, "Conversations at Night" moves up into 1920. It looks mainly at Sanzo, a strong young man who had a bright future until a war wound blinded him, and Lisha, his neighbour who begins reading aloud to him in the afternoons. As their relationship deepens, they have to face all the problems that come along with Sanzo's blindness. I liked this one because the characters, and how they interact with each other, rang true. Both Sanzo and Lisha have families, which resulted in lots of minor characters that were fun to watch. This one is also much longer, almost forty pages, which gives it more resonance.

1 comment:

Julie said...

Thanks for coming over and visiting my blog. Since you are a short story fan, you might get a kick out of a project I have been working on for my grown daughters. It is a colaboration of short true stories. Stories that happened while they were growing least my take on them.