Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649
The tribes of Kesh, a country in what is now California, live a fairly rustic existence, but they have access to a variety of technological apparatuses. One apparatus, an interplanetary computer called The Exchange, provides information to anyone who knows its programming language, TOK. Additionally, the tribes have battery-powered flashlights and motorized boats, and tribal supplies are carried by train from town to town.
The Valley People live in a virtual utopia, holding sacred seasonal ceremonies and existing in cooperation with the land. The Condor People, a warlike group that once had been nomadic, live in a central city and worship a single deity, the Condor. Where Valley women are completely free and equal, Condor women live in cloistered harems and are not permitted to learn how to write. Where Valley People share communal leadership, the Condor answer to one man and hold slaves who were not born to Condor families. Where the Valley People are rural, the Condor People are urban and consider the Valley folk rustic.
One story emerges as central to understanding the differences between Valley and Condor folk. Blue Owl of the Blue Clay Tribe in the Sinshan Valley lives with her mother and grandmother, thinking she is “half a person” because she does not know her father. When she is nine years old, her father, Terter Abhao, a Condor Person from the north whose name means “kills,” arrives with his army to spend time in the valley. After he leaves, Blue Owl’s mother, Willow, who had thought he had come to stay, changes her own name back to her childhood name of Towhee and withdraws from the family. In Valley culture, this reclaiming of an old name is considered going against nature and liable to be dangerous to the changed person. Thus, when Terter Abhao returns when Blue Owl is fourteen years old, his daughter begs him to take her with him and asks him to rename her.
Blue Owl and Terter ride to Terter’s home city. Blue Owl, now Ayatu, learns that Condor women lead conscripted lives, and she now regrets her decision to leave her mother’s people. She finds the city stifling and, as her father loses favor in the eyes of the Condor, finds her family losing importance. She is assigned a servant who teaches her how to survive in the harem and who comes with her when she is married off as a second wife, a pretty wife, to another family. Ultimately, she has a daughter and, before he rides to his own death in a canyon, Terter helps Ayatu and her servant and daughter escape from the Condor People.
Ayatu then chooses her own name, Woman Coming Home, and teaches her servant and daughter how to be free. She returns to find little changed in the Valley, but agrees that her story is important, since no other Valley folk have ever gone to live among the Condor and returned. She records her biography with The Exchange. She cares for her somewhat delusional mother, Towhee, who has turned even more inward, possibly because she went back to her old name. Woman Coming Home helps her friend establish herself in this new culture. When Towhee dies, Woman Coming Home renames her mother Ashes and participates in her ritual cremation.
Woman Coming Home meets a Valley man, and they become lovers. Because of her experiences among the Condor, she is initially unwilling to marry, but she ultimately consents, and the two enjoy a peaceful existence with her daughter; they have no children as a couple. A friend marries one of Woman Coming Home’s cousins, and the two families ultimately move to separate homes. Woman Coming Home changes her name to Stone Telling, and her husband changes his name to Stone Listening. She begins telling her story to researchers from another place and possibly another time, maybe the present.