Tuesday, January 21, 2020

13. The Ministry of Truth

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984. Dorian Lynskey. 2019. 368 pages. [Source: Library] [Nonfiction; History; Literature]

First sentence: December 1948. A man sits at a typewriter, in bed, on a remote island, fighting to complete the book that means more to him than any other.

Premise/plot: The Ministry of Truth is a biography of a book—George Orwell’s 1984. What does that involve? How does that even work? It is a closer look At Orwell’s life, his beliefs, his career, his works, his relationships. It is a closer look at the evolution of the utopian/dystopian genre. What books came before. What books are its contemporaries. What books came after. (This also means mini biographies of other writers.) It is a closer look at ideas, philosophies, politics. Can man be improved? Is perfection possible? Is progress helping us become better people? Will technology lead us to an ideal paradise? Or is humanity what is wrong with the world? Is technology destroying us? Will it ultimately be our downfall? Primarily there is a lot of discussion on communism, socialism, democratic socialism, totalitarianism, fascism, etc. Apparently there are distinctions between all of them. Orwell’s beliefs—his world view—shifted, changed, evolved, over time. And his beliefs can’t necessarily be divorced from the times, the culture, his life experiences. Learning more about the books he read, the company he kept, what he believed as deduced from what he was writing both publicly and privately, has me asking the question are people interpreting 1984 all wrong? I don’t have an answer to that...

My thoughts: I will be honest—this one was way too detailed for my interest level. I like 1984 okay, but I am not obsessed with it. I don’t have it memorized. It is not “my book.” (Think Fahrenheit 451). I do have an interest in the sub genre of dystopias. I have read Brave New World, We, 1984, It Can’t Happen Here, The Time Machine, The Sleeper Awakes, etc. (And of course Fahrenheit 451 which is one of my favorite, favorite books that I love and adore in a much more obsessive way.) I did find it interesting to learn about other novels that came before that I haven’t read...at least not yet. I didn’t necessarily love all the political and philosophical discourse. In that it’s hard for me to differentiate between all the isms in a meaningful way. I don’t get the hundred shades of socialism—but apparently it isn’t black and white. I get the impression that to read 1984 and conclude that socialism is bad or communism is bad is too simplistic in this scholar’s opinion. Apparently Orwell wasn’t condemning all of any ism. Conservatives see what they want in the novel. Liberals see what they want to see in the novel. No matter your political leanings, your world view, you interpret the book as agreeing with you to some extent at least. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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