Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: YA, mythology retelling
Published on April 21, 2008
Published by Harcourt, Inc.
Pages: 279
Read From: 11.4.11 - 11.17.11

In The Aeneid, Vergil's hero fights to claim the king's daughter, Lavina, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavina herself never speaks a word in the poem. Now Ursula K. Le Guin gives her a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills. Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother demands that she marry handsome, ambitious Tutnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner - that she will be the cause of a bitter war - and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.


I confess, I have not yet read The Aeneid (it's on my shelf, waiting to be picked up!!), but I know enough about it to appreciate this book. And even if you haven't read Virgil's epic story, you will still appreciate Lavinia for what it is: a terrific story.

Lavinia is a wonderful heroine who does what she must, wishes to be loved by her mother, but accepts that it is not possible, honors her father, and forces herself to be content with her lot in life. Lavinia is cursed with the knowledge that the man she loves will live but three years, and then be taken from her. She is also cursed with the knowledge that history will not remember her for who she really is, but rather recall an incorrect image of her created by a dying poet who realized too late that his poem was flawed. And yet Lavinia perseveres. She fights to protect her home and finally her son from his step-brother, who did not inherit Aeneis's good sense. She is a young woman all Readers can sympathize with and dearly wish to see happy.

Lavinia is beautifully written and a quick read, even though it may not look it. It really is, made so by the fascinating imagery the Author brings forth of an Italy we Readers recognize, but at the same time don't. Whenever people write about Italy and Rome, they write of the Rome that was at its height in glory and prosperity - or the Rome that was collapsing in on itself because it produced nothing and had made more enemies than it could contend with. Rarely do authors write about when Rome really hadn't yet been founded, and it's an interesting "what if" to see.

Content-wise, there isn't anything explicit or alarming. Lavinia mentions how many of the women make rude anatomy jokes, but none of these are related in detail, and when Lavinia is wed to Aeneis, she relates how they made love, but again, it is never in any sort of detail. It is a brief mention: "and then we . . ." and that is it. It is hinted - rather strongly - that Aeneis's son by his first wife has not interest in women, and surrounds himself with beautiful young men for a reason, but as with the other things, no details.

All in all, I enjoyed Lavinia immensely, and hope that others do as well.

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