Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin

In Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin reimagines the story of how Aeneas (of Virgil's Aeneid) fought the locals of Latinum, married the king’s daughter, and founded Rome. By telling this story from Lavinia’s perspective, Le Guin brings a domestic element to an otherwise military tale.

Le Guin relies on Virgil's account for the backbone of her story. Lavinia is an imperfect narrator because she lacks the personal knowledge needed to describe the battle scenes. So Le Guin provides Lavinia with the necessary information through a series of visions brought on by Lavinia's religious rituals. In these visions, Virgil visits Lavinia from the future and tells her the story of his Aeneid, which Lavinia uses to narrate her contemporaneous tale.

As Anita Diamant's The Red Tent did for the Old Testament, Lavinia brings a female and familial viewpoint to the epic myth of Roman civilization. Le Guin concentrates on the quotidian details and traditions of ancient Rome, admitting that she drew on her imagination as much as on known history.

For me, there was not enough home front content to balance out the battles. The most interesting part was the author's Afterword, where Le Guin explains her love of Virgil's Aeneid, particularly when read in Latin. If I had her devotion to the original classic, I would likely have greater appreciation for Le Guin's retelling.


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I read Lavinia as one of my books for the TBR challenges I am doing this year:

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