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Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was [Paperback]

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Item description for Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angelica Gorodischer, Ursula K. Le Guin & Ursula K. Le Guin...

"An impressive introduction."-The Review of Contemporary Fiction

"Should appeal to [Le Guin's] fans."-Library Journal (starred review)

"Borges and Cortzar are alive and well."-Bridge Magazine

Multiple storytellers tell of a fabled nameless empire that has risen and fallen innumerable times. Beggars become emperors, democracies become dictatorships, and history becomes legends and stories. On The New York Times Summer Reading List.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   250
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.5"
Weight:   0.7 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 15, 2003
Publisher   Small Beer Press
ISBN  1931520054  
ISBN13  9781931520058  

Availability  0 units.

More About Angelica Gorodischer, Ursula K. Le Guin & Ursula K. Le Guin

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Anglica Gorodischer was born in 1929 in Buenos Aires and has lived most of her life in Rosario, Argentina. She is the author of nineteen books. From her first book of stories, she has displayed a mastery of science-fiction themes, handled with her own personal slant, and exemplary of the South American fantasy tradition.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Authors, A-Z > ( L ) > LeGuin, Ursula K.
3Books > Subjects > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > General

Reviews - What do customers think about Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was?

Lovely stories full of humor, tragedy, cynicism, romanticism, wisdom, folly ...  Aug 5, 2006
Kalpa Imperial is a fantasy about "The Greatest Empire That Never Was", as the subtitle has it. The book is a compendium of several separate stories, mostly told by a professional storyteller (who also has an important additional role in one story), concerning the history of said empire. Most of the stories tell of Emperors and Empresses, some good, some bad, some mad -- how they came to power, how they fell from power, how they ruled. The stories are often romantic, but the romanticism is tinged by a sort of earthiness, and a realism that does not quite become cynical. The stories are nicely imagined, sometimes funny, sometimes brutal. The whole is billed as a novel, but the stories work fine separately, and are really linked only by geography and the voice of the storyteller, so it's more a linked collection of short fiction than a novel.

There are eleven stories, or chapters, arranged in two books. The opening piece, "Portrait of the Emperor", tells us that a good man now sits on the throne of the Empire, and then goes on to tell of the founding of the empire, by a weakling boy who learned a different kind of strength. "The Two Hands" is a fable-like story of a usurper who ended up spending twenty years confined in his bedroom. "The End of a Dynasty, or The Natural History of Ferrets" tells of a young Crown Prince, son of a cruel Empress and a deposed Emperor, who grows up torn between the evil influence of his mother and the countervailing touch of a couple of kindly workmen. "Siege, Battle, and Victory of Selimmagud" is an ironic tale of a thief and deserter and his encounter with the General besieging the title city. "Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities" is a lovely long description of the varying history of a Northern city, sometimes the capitol, sometimes ignored, sometimes something quite else.

Book two opens with "Portrait of the Empress", in which the storyteller who has been narrating these tales is recruited by the Great Empress to tell her of her Empire's history. She in turn tells him of the woman who rose from poverty to become the Great Empress. "And the Streets Empty" is a dark story of the vengeful destruction of a city by a jealous Empress. "The Pool" concerns a mysterious physician, and his encounters with those plotting to overturn the current dynasty. "Basic Weapons" is a colorful and macabre piece about a dealer in people, and a rich man, and obsession. "'Down There in the South'" is a long story of an aristocrat with a dark secret who is forced to flee from the ruling North to the rural South, and who is fated to change history when the North comes to invade. And "The Old Incense Road" tells of a mysterious orphan, a mysterious merchant, a caravan, and some "stories within the story", all eventually concerning another change of rulers.

The stories are full of humor and tragedy, of cynicism and romanticism, of secret identities, of wisdom and folly, of blood, of nobility. The fantastical elements are slim: this is perhaps what is sometimes called "Ruritanian" fantasy -- set in a different world that much resembles ours. At the same time the landscapes and characters and events are heightened in color, so that if there may not be overt magic, the ordinary seems magic enough.
quirky, poetic, elegant... fascination of empire  Jul 24, 2005
I found this book in the SciFi section of my local store but it's not really SciFi. But it could be (think Dune or Star Wars and the ups and downs of their Empires).

The book is a series of stories, told as if spoken live by a storyteller, about different characters, emperors, empresses, soldiers, cities at different times in the history of an unspecified great Empire.

It appeals to me because it is quirky. It reads eloquently but non-colloquially (it is translated). Yet the language is quite elegant and poetic. The tone and feel of the language appeal to me as much as the stories.

The storyteller, also unnamed, is a bit of a character, admonishing his (or her) listeners (us) to pay attention, or otherwise chastising them. But it all works. There's something timeless and fascinating about our interest in great Empires. The stories cover millenia of years and rulers, during which time the Empire rises and falls many times. The storyteller is a bit of a cynic and makes side comments during the narratives.

It is fascinating and engaging and I am glad I found it. The author is Latin American, which surprised me because the stories felt old European or Slavic at times, or Oriental or maybe Roman. The very essence of Empire comes through.
reads well in multiple sittings, drags a bit, strong voice  Apr 8, 2005
If Italo Calvino,Ursula Leguin (the translator), and Fritz Leiber collaborated on a collection, you might get something like Kalpa Imperial, a set of eleven stories dipping in and out of the grand and lengthy history of the Empire. This is not a narrative fantasy--the stories, though some may refer to others, mostly stand on their own, and they can skip entire ages of the Empire's life. Nor is it "fantasy" as often meant in today's publishing world. There is little actual magic, few quests, no single epic story, and the world building is more quietly delightful than immensely detailed.
The stories are all told by a storyteller (also an important character in one of the later stories) who often interjects his own comments on the tale, on tale-telling, on history, or even on the thick-headedness of those listening. The storyteller's voice and the oral history feel of the book are two of the better aspects of the work.
Style is another. The language is simply delightful, poetic in places, simple in others, spare in others. It's always hard to tell with a translation, of course, but one has the feel that Le Guin and Gorodischer could have been separated at birth since there is an ease and naturalness to the language that often is lacking in translated works.
The stories themselves, as mentioned, work independently while also conveying the cyclical rise and fall of the Empire and its wide variety of emperors and empresses. The stories cover all sorts--good and bad and a mixture of both (and even better, bad who did good and good who did bad), old and young, male and female, lusty and prudish, wise and foolish. They're all here, sitting on their throne deservedly or not.
Many of the tales deal with power, acquisition of, use and sometimes abuse of, loss of. Some work nicely as fables or moral tales, some as allegory, some as political/social commentary.
It's hard to fault any particular story, but read in a single sitting, they do tend to blur a bit toward the end, feel a bit too similar. And the book starts to lose its sense of delight. My guess is that this is as much a factor of reading style as writing style, and that if one read the book over a longer period of time, dipping in to taste a few stories then putting it down, it would go down much better.
It's an unusual work, not as strange as Calvino, but it has a nice echo of Invisible Cities to it. It's not as magical as Le Guin's better known work, but it has a similar style and voice to her quieter, more anthropological works, such as Orsinian Tales. And if the Empire isn't stalked by demons and sorcerers as in Leiber, it has the same feel of heavy history to it. And the writing, as mentioned, is first rate. Recommended, but with the advise not to rush through it. Maybe read it concurrently with something else so the stories have time to linger then fade just a little.
Slow read  Mar 18, 2004
I got all the way through this book because I figured that Ursula LeGuin saw something in it and I can see how she did, but it's mostly lacking the interest I find in her work. The habit of having a storyteller for every tale makes the characters distant so that you don't end up caring about them, and the scenery less vivid. This technique is supposed to give them the universal wisdom of fables but what the stories and characters tend to achieve is either common sense or a sort of vague mysticism that doesn't really accomplish the amount of depth it would need to have this style work. Well written and seemlessly translated, but overall a plodding read.
I am so proud of meeting her almost everyday, since she lives where I do. Her books are so deep, she is such a terrific person!!!!!!!! I love her work. I love this book, too.

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