Lavinia

lavinia

Winner of the Locus Award and shortlisted by the BFSA

Troy has fallen. Rome is a tiny village by the seven hills... At the end of Vergil’s epic poem The Aeneid, the Trojan hero Aeneas, following his destiny, is about to marry the Italian girl Lavinia. But in the poem, she has played only the slightest part, and has never spoken a word.

Daughter of a local king, Lavinia has lived in peace and freedom, till suitors came seeking her hand, and a foreign fleet sailed up the Tiber. Now her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus, but strange omens, prophecies spoken by the voices of the sacred trees and springs, foretell that she must marry a stranger. And that she will be the cause of a bitter war. And that her husband will not live long.

Lavinia is determined to follow her own destiny. And when she talks with the spirit of the poet in the sacred grove, she begins to see that destiny. So she gains her own voice, learning how to tell the story Vergil left untold — her story, her life, and the love of her life.

Read an excerpt.

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View the map of Latium.

Reviews:

Lavinia “is one of the most eloquent, profound and moving novels I have ever read and it should have won every major literary award out there.”
Jo Fletcher’s Picks, IO9, 1 November 2009

“With this characteristically graceful retelling of the final stages of Virgil’s Aeneid, one of the master fabulists of our time crowns a great career. A luminous novel that should appeal across genres and generations.”
— The Independent, 8 September 2009

“...through the elusive voice that speaks here, shifting and uncoiling like a thread of smoke in still air, Le Guin addresses a wide range of issues — the use of power, the differences (as always!) between men and women, the meaning of war, cruelty and violence; and the nature of the creative and artistic process of storytelling and mythmaking itself.”
The Subtle Knife, 1 August 2009

“...ranging through historical, political and spiritual arenas, across centuries, through dreams and poems and geographical fact... This is a work of passion, written with cool expertise: a cracker.”
— Lucy Atkins, Times Online, 28 June 2009

“Le Guin cleverly and playfully... asserts Lavinia as a real person in her own right, while at the same time leaving her subject to her immutable role in The Aeneid. The contrast is intriguing, and adds a surprising and interesting depth to what would in any event have been an exceedingly well-told tale.”
— George Williams, The Australian, 5 July 2009

“Her achievement is to complement the original epic so distinctively, as if in a dialogue or dance with the poet who inspired her.”
— John Garth, The Telegraph, 21 June 2009

“She is a social novelist in the best sense of the term [...] her ultimate concern is with the real world. In this novel, Virgil’s imaginary Italy allows her a manipulatory freedom which a more realistic method would not.”
—Tobias Hill , The Guardian

“...Ursula Le Guin’s vivid novel gives Lavinia a voice, without any serious pretence that the experience of a princess of the Bronze Age can be recalled. ... The world she describes in tender detail is a pastoral utopia, sufficiently alien from modern values to catch the interest of an author who has always chosen to examine the workings of contemporary society by imagining something wholly different....”

“...The most haunting passages of the novel imagine Lavinia meeting the shade of Virgil at the sacred shrine of Albunea, where spirits communicate with the living. These encounters are necessarily perplexing, for Lavinia knows that she has no life outside Virgil’s poem.... Virgil is brought to acknowledge that he has not done justice to the self-possessed, dark young woman who stands before him: “I thought you were a blonde!” Here Le Guin makes her authority felt, insisting on a different kind of reality.... But this is not a matter of Le Guin affirming a superior understanding. Virgil’s dignity and stature are given their full weight, and a sense of his sadness suffuses the novel....”

“...Lavinia’s enduring vitality lies in her love for her flawed and courageous husband, who represents a society with ‘certain homely but delicate values, such as ... loyalty, modesty, and responsibility.’ Le Guin has her own modesty, and would not claim to have superseded Virgil’s achievement. Her novel ... is a moving testament to the conversations that great writers sustain through the centuries.”
— Dinah Birch, Times Literary Supplement, 22 May 2009

“[A] subtly moving, playful, tactfully told story, a novel that brought me to tears more than once.” Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 23 May 2009.
The Guardian

“...a perfectly balanced blend of feeling, metre and storytelling...”
— Guy Haley, Death Ray. [complete review] [240Kb PDF]

“Everywhere Le Guin catches the rhythms of the great epic, echoes them, riffs. In a way, this is a jazzy book, playing in odd syncopation with a massive canonical work... I found myself delighted, even stunned, by the freshness of Le Guin’s prose...”
— Jay Parini, Los Angeles Times Calendar Online , 20 April 2007 

“Everyone could use a forest of Albunea, a place where dreams, ghosts, owls, oracles and ancestors offer hints about your fate and advice about difficult decisions. In Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin’s brilliant new novel, a great deal is illuminated in Albunea, not least of which is the true character of Lavinia....”
— Tricia Snell 
Portland Oregonian 

“Fantasist and SF writer Le Guin turns her attention and her considerable talent to fleshing out a secondary character mentioned briefly in Virgil’s masterpiece, The Aeneid.... The compulsively readable Le Guin earns kudos for fashioning a winning combination of history and mythology featuring an unlikely heroine imaginatively plucked from literary obscurity.”
— Margaret Flanagan, Booklist, 15 March 2008 

Library Journal’s starred review calls Lavinia “Le Guin’s brilliant reimagining of the last six books of Virgil’s epic poem.” The reviewer says “...this beautiful and moving novel is a love offering to one of the world’s great poets...” “Highly recommended.”
— Library Journal, 1 March 2008

“Le Guin has researched this ancient world assiduously, and her measured, understated prose captures with equal skill the permutations of established ritual and ceremony and the sensations of the battlefield.... Arguably her best novel, and an altogether worthy companion volume to one of the Western world’s greatest stories.”
— Kirkus Reviews, 15 February 2008

“Le Guin is famous for creating alternative worlds (as in Left Hand of Darkness), and she approaches Lavinia’s world, from which Western civilization took its course, as unique and strange as any fantasy. It’s a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves’s I, Claudius.
— Publishers Weekly Starred Review, 24 December 2007

“National Book Award-winner Ursula K. Le Guin’s decision to give voice to one of Vergil’s most stoically silent characters in the Aeneid will likely have devotees listening with rapt attention.” “...what may be the crowning magnum opus of her storied career...”
— Kirkus Spring & Summer Preview [2.3Mb pdf] January 2008

Ursula Le Guin Champions Vergil’s Neglected Heroine.” Yvonne Zipp reviews Lavinia.
The Christian Science Monitor

“...elegant and eloquent....”
Entertainment Weekly

Interviews & Appearances:

Between the Covers” - 22 July 2008: Jim Schumock interviews Ursula for KBOO radio. Streaming audio.

NPR’s Jacki Lyden interviews Ursula on “All Things Considered,” 26 April 2008. (Audio)

Ursula at Powell’s Bookstore. Reading, Q&A about Lavinia. Video courtesy of pdxjustice Media Productions. 22 April 2008. (Video)

Ursula told the Kirkus interviewer:

“In the Aeneid, Lavinia is a mere convention, the blond maiden, a background figure barely sketched. Yet this is the woman the hero is commanded by the gods to marry. She so evidently has a voice, and Vergil knew how to listen to women; but he didn’t have time to listen to her. He’s in the war part of his story and has to get all the battles fought. So all Lavinia gets to do is blush. I felt it was time she got to tell her view of things. Inevitably this is also an interpretation of the hero’s story, in which I think Vergil shows the price of public triumph as personal tragedy.

“The first time I really read the Aeneid was in my seventies, when I got enough Latin into my head at last to read it in Latin. Vergil is truly untranslatable; his poetry is the music of his language, and it gets lost in any other. Reading it at last, hearing that incredible voice, was a tremendous joy. And Lavinia’s voice and her story came to me out of that joy. A gift from a great giver.”

Cynthia Crossen interviews Ursula for the Wall Street Journal:

“Ursula K. Le Guin began her research for her new book, Lavinia, by reading Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid in the original Latin. ‘Very, very slowly,’ she said in an interview. ‘Ten lines a day.’”