Four (actually five now, in the edition I read) interlocking novellas by Ursula Le Guin, exploring the history of two planets, Werel and Yeowe, with an entrenched culture of slavery based largely on race.
This collection of stories is about slavery, freedom, and women's liberation. Le Guin makes it possible: to understand and forgive a disgraced leader of the the War of Liberation who is accused of embezzlement and debauchery; for a Werelian officer, disgusted by a female representative's of Ekumen (the Envoy) childishness and loose behavior, and the Envoy, turned off by the officer's uptight, proprietary behavior towards her, to understand each other and fall in love with the very qualities they had thought off-putting; for a representative of a better, more peaceful world, to come to understand how a refusal of newly freed men to allow their women the same freedoms can be justifiable. There are many profound things touched upon in this book: the destructive, alienating nature of slavery; the futility of just giving people freedom when they never dared to want it and never fully understood it; that freedom begins with sexual freedom, a freedom within our bodies; the wrongness of simply bringing one's ideas of liberty to force upon people without understanding the people's culture, no matter how right and humane these ideas are.
Four Ways to Forgiveness: Slavery, oppression, revolution, and redemption Originally posted at Fantasy Literature Ursula K. However, Le Guin is far too skilled a writer to wield a cudgel instead, she uses her scalpel to peel away layer after layer of ingrained societal norms as she explores just how human societies are affected by these topics, and leaving no side free of sin but shows how even the slavers victimize themselves as they indoctrinate their own children into the system. As with her other Hainish stories, in Four Ways to Forgiveness she uses the Envoys of the advanced space-faring Ekumen as the neutral observers of the more primitive native societies, determined to not take sides but forced to by circumstances. Four Ways to Forgiveness introduces a pair of worlds named Werel and Yeowe. There are a lot of unpleasant and brutal scenes in Four Ways to Forgiveness Le Guin really forces the reader to face the ugliness of societies built around oppression and abuse those unable to defend themselves. Le Guin, along with three of the stories from Four Ways to Forgiveness, Forgiveness Day, A Man of the People, and A Womans Liberation.
Le Guin argues that all relationships across cultures are akin to the sexual relationship between two people, and that all larger freedoms begin with the freedom of one's own body. Having a sexual relationship is akin to crossing a border between nations, between cultures, and all the same issues of colonialism, of oppression and freedom, are manifest.
Four Ways to Forgiveness is a beautiful collections of stories that underscore her skill as a storyteller and a master of speculative fiction.
Yes, Werel is a slave-owning society, and a capitalist one (I see what you did there, le Guin - very nice indeed - Marx needs a little chastising sometimes). The four stories all deal with the same basic issue and time: the consequences of a revolt of the 'assets' on Yeowe against the Corporation who owned them: consequences for the Owners and the assets, for men and women, and for the alien Ekumen observers (this fits into le Guin's Hainish cycle). The first story, "Betrayals," is set some time after the Liberation, in a nowhere town on Yeowe. "Forgiveness Day" comes first from the perspective of a 'space brat' - a worldly (hmm, or not; she doesn't really have a world) woman of the Ekumen sent to Werel to act as an observer there. of the story, and then relates the next section from the perspective of Teyeo, her bodyguard, of whom Solly has a very dim view but who again comes across as immensely sympathetic, and casts some shade on Solly; and then the rest is the two of them in rather a pickle. It also starts opening up Werel society to the reader, giving hints and clues about how and why it works, which while not making it likeable begins to make it comprehensible. Nearly half of the story takes place on Hain as Havzhida learns about universal knowledge and eventually becomes a member of the Hainish delegation to Yeowe. While the previous story showed Werel from an outsider's perspective, seeing Yeowe post-Liberation from such a view is revealing too, not least because the gender hierarchy has been replicated. The rhetoric of freedom, of liberation, is a complex one, and le Guin makes some offerings on how to understand it in this and the next story in particular. "A Woman's Liberation," though, is from the perspective of a bondswoman - an asset - on Werel. By the end a general sweep of the history and society of Werel and Yeowe has been revealed, but there is so much more that could be written!
All of them end up finding their way to -don't say forgiveness. On the good side: (view spoiler)Happy endings, no they never bore me (hide spoiler)
Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc.