Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs

Orsinia: For most of us, we are born, we live, and we die. That’s the way it is and the way it always has been. But there are some others of us who are born with a very special fire that resides within the soul. We don’t recognize this fire exists until the time comes in life to let it consume us, though for a long time, we know it is there. We know we are meant to do … SOMETHING in this world. Play some role, accomplish some mission, make a magnificent sacrifice.

Itale Sorde is one such person. He is born into a world where the people are not free. There is censorship, political unrest, and mail being intercepted before delivery. For Itale Sorde, his is the fire that propels him to take action against such constraints. This fire that he has within him instructs him with one word; “Fight.”

And fight he does. When he is older, he abandons his family’s vineyard, where his post as heir to the estate is assured, and travels to where he feels he must go – the place that he decides is the place where he can launch this fight against freedom.

He does so with a political journal: "Novesma Verba": "The newest word." Though his word is not new. For centuries, the oppressed have fought the oppressor. Slave has rebelled against Master. Student has debated Teacher. Seaman has mutinied against Captain.

For Itale Sorde, he stokes the fires of dissension. He gathers together fellow writers, fellow thinkers and fellow patriots that demand freedom, and together they start their own “revolution” through the written word.

His is a mission he knows he must embark on. And with it come sacrifices; he cannot settle down to be someone’s lover or someone’s patient who he must surrender his own personal freedom to and become an average man – as the character Luisa must learn the hard way. Luisa knows she cannot tame Itale and render him to her will, though she tries. She is stubborn and will not be moved. And then when she finally accepts defeat and realizes that she is in love with a man she can never truly have in her own preconceived expectations of what love is, she tells Itale, "I will use my life and my love as I see fit to use it." (Page 130) And she does, but it only causes her pain. She cannot keep him as her lover or as a man to take care of all on her own in her house. Itale feels out of place in both situations. He knows it’s not where he belongs.

He leaves Luisa twice with signs of regret and hesitation, but he still leaves her behind. And his way of coping with separating himself from the woman he loves is to keep looking forward and doing what must be done, As he says to Luisa, "Life's not a room, it's a road; what you leave you leave, and it's lost. You can't turn back." (Page 135) And he does, but in some way, life brings him back to her. And even then, he leaves her again. He seems to feel as though he cannot be the man she wants. He cannot be average. He cannot settle. She tries to integrate him into her life, but Itale feels lost, isolated and confused. When she tries to get him to socialize with her friends, he asks her in despair, “What can I say to them?”

Though Itale is not without feeling. He does love Luisa, but he know they can’t be together. That fire within him is too strong. His friend, Amadey, understands this struggle with love, and when Itale had shares with him this battle he is fighting in his heart, Amadey lays it out clearly for him: Quote from Estenskar: "Love is an invention of the poets, Itale. Believe me, I should know! It is a lie. It is the worst of all the lies. A word without meaning. Not a rock but a whirlpool, the emptiness that sucks down the soul." ( Page 164) Then later he says: "Love's the game where there are only losers." (Page 165)

This seems to settle things for Itale. He never stops loving Luisa, but he knows that he must continue with the path he has set himself upon. Ultimately, he finds comfort in being alone and unattached to a woman. "One had to go alone; no use looking for anything one had left behind. Take what happiness might come, get the work done, and no complaining. It was the only way. Alone; to be free one had to be alone." (Page 136)

Itale is smart to put his life’s mission over something as stupid as love. Love is a joke. Love is a fool’s game. Love is something that people use to hurt others. And to love another will only cause hurt because love is never enough for other people. They don’t want love and they don’t care about hurting another person that loves them. Love means nothing to them. No, love is not something more important than what we feel we are destined to do in our lives. It is not worth sacrificing all for or giving it all up for. The life’s mission is more important. Love is not important and never will be.

I can SO relate to the slump that Amadey goes through. Where it says on page 179, "His need to make poetry had been his master; having lost his master, he had lost his freedom." Been there. It can be horrible, because being a writer is such a strong part of one's identity. And once that is gone, when the finality of the work being done sets in, it feels as though one is lost in the world. As though a purpose has been fulfilled and there is nothing left to do or give. Amadey struggles with this and I know that struggle well because it is my struggle too. I understand the decision he made in this story. Though it saddened me, I get it. I get it because I know it. It is the decision that I, too, have pondered making.

Itale’s story is one that has been told throughout the years. In the end, his is a battle that he realizes he must continue no matter what, despite all obstacles, sentiments and sacrifices. In the end, even when he feels beaten and done for, he knows he cannot stop this fight against freedom. As he says: "There was no way to serve fear and be free." (Pg. 230) one can never be free is enslaved by fear, and one must fight when the call to fight is sounded.

The short stories included in the book were interesting reads, as well.


Book Blurb for Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs

Fantasy - Malafrena is not a real place. Itale never dreamed of love, nor Piera of him. Estenskar did not live, only his poems. Only the dreams of themselves are real, only their youth, only the wind called Freedom that swept through their lives like a storm unforgettable. A novel set in the imaginary nation of Orsinia in the early nineteenth century.


Night Owl Reviews Jun, 2017 4.00