Sutty, a traveler from Earth, comes to the planet Aka to study its culture and people. However, she arrives in a place very different from what she expects. Instead of a world with an ancient culture and language she finds a planet rushing towards modernization - and in the process losing many of the things that made it unique, the very things she came to study. Everywhere she goes, this state mandated progress is overseen by government agents, frightening censors, and police.
This hits close to home for Sutty (so to speak) because she herself is a refugee from an Earth ruled by an oppressive religious government. She left it behind when she left Earth, but finds it again, in a different guise, on Aka. To escape this totalitarian pressure she seeks the stories and wisdom of the people of Aka in increasingly remote and isolated locations, knowing that the government agent assigned to her case is just behind her and that anything she finds she might lead him right to her.
This is a novel about people living in and with systems of power; moments of connection, resistance, and passion are sprinkled throughout no matter how brutal the laws people are forced to live under. The language of this book is beautiful. If you like The Telling, you should give other books in Ursula Le Guin's Hainish Cycle a try. You don't need to have read them to follow The Telling, but they are set in the same universe, a world where humanity has conquered the stars but still fails to understand itself.
The Hainish Cycle