Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Review: "1984" by George Orwell

Depressing & thoroughly unsettling. I was not prepared for "1984", it caught me utterly off guard.

I had heard so much about this book before. I had seen the terms "Big Brother" & "Orwellian future" being used countless number of times. I thought I understood what they essentially meant, I thought I knew the gist of what these sayings represented. I was wrong. 

George Orwell's "1984" is, at its core, a political commentary. It is a terrifying depiction of a totalitarian nation-state. A future in which everything that makes a person "human" is stripped off of him. Constant surveillance to the point where even one's thoughts are not private, 95% of the population kept purposefully in extreme poor conditions so that they won't have the time & the energy to think about anything other than mere survival. "The Party", as George Orwell calls it, has policed the language itself, eliminating a lot of words, making it basically impossible to express exactly what one thinks. The act of even thinking something out of line, labelled 'ThoughtCrime', warrants a capital punishment !

In spite of this hopeless picture of the future that George Orwell paints, in spite of this book not being an easy read (it starts out very slowly but picks up in the latter parts), I think "1984" should be read by anyone interested in political fiction. 

It is fascinating how the author has done his world building. The thought process of his protagonist, 'Winston Smith', the inner turmoil that he feels, his helplessness is captured very well. George Orwell has coined some terms which are now basically part of our everyday vocabulary. "Big Brother is watching you" - the eerie slogan that is now associated with extreme Communist regimes was first conceptualized in this book.

But what was George Orwell getting at ? Why such a dark, disturbing tale ? After finishing the book, I couldn't let this go. So I did some digging about George Orwell himself, his own political leanings, his non-fiction essays about twentieth century political scene (he calls himself a 'democratic socialist'). He published "1984" in 1949, when the echoes of World War II were still fresh in people's memories & the stage for cold war was being setup. The totalitarian nation state depicted in "1984" is based on the Nazi Germany's extremism and the 'iron curtain' that Stalin's Communist Russia put on eastern European countries. George Orwell wasn't just pointing out what would happen if an extreme Communist regime took over Europe, but he was also commenting about the abuse of power a complete authoritarian nation state would do. By portraying an extreme situation, "1984" makes you think why "privacy" & "personal freedom - of thought, of choice and of lifestyle" is an essential aspect of humanity & the backbone of any democratic state of affairs.

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