1984 by George Orwell – Even Better the Second Time Around
I’ve decided to re-read some of the classic fiction that captivated me when I was a teenager. For my first choice, I dove with great anticipation into Ayn Rand’s, “We the Living,”a novel about one woman’s attempt to keep her identity in the new Soviet Union. I’d read it several times when I was 16. I felt as if I were standing beside the lead character, Kira, as she watched her world fall down around her. Sadly, it wasn’t as gripping a read this time. True, the book should be viewed in its context. Very little was known about every day life in the Soviet Union when it was published (1936), which made it all the more sensational. Much propaganda was being pushed out by the Soviet government; visiting delegates came away with false, rosy pictures of the Soviet proletariat’s life. Rand, who grew up in Russia at the time, was one of the few who stood up against the propaganda and that’s part of what made it stand out at the time. But by today’s standards, in a world where we are inundated with stories of stifling and corrupt government in many countries, the story seems almost tame.
George Orwell’s book “1984” has had the opposite effect on me. Within the first few pages, Orwell succeeds in creating a tense, frightening world seems far more real to me now than it did when I read it years ago. At the time, it seemed almost contrived, as though conceived to serve as a backdrop to amplify the main character’s inner turmoil and wakening rebellion against his stifled existence. But this time around, the omnipresent sense of being watched and overheard is scarily closer to the hyper-connected world in which we live in today. Beyond the all-seeing, all-hearing aura that takes over your mind as you read, Orwell has also created a gray, drab world in which things that we take for granted – chocolate, sugar, shoes, razor blades – are long gone, replaced by badly done substitutes or nothing at all. At first, this deprived world seemed contrived or dated – until I thought of modern day North Korea.
Read “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick and you’re slapped in the face with the realization that Orwell’s world can be found here and now, in North Korea. In this non-fiction book, Demick shows us what life is like for the average North Korean, told through the stories of six people who eventually defected to South Korea. Their day-to-day lives are hauntingly similar to those in 1984, so much so that you wonder if the North Korean government actually used Orwell’s book as a primer for repression. The tragic difference is that the lives of the people in Demick’s book are not imagined. The suffering they endure just to stay alive is unimaginable to those of raised in the world I’ve been grew up in.
Even more frightening, the government has managed to create a world where “Big Brother is Watching” without the use of electronics, driving home the point that it’s the people who create the system, not the system that creates the people. It’s an unforgettable read that will stay with you for a long time.
Next up: Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey. Will it be as riveting as I remember?
Categories: Reading List