Background: An undeniable classic and a must-read. I actually started reading the Portuguese translation of this book a long time ago, but it mysteriously disappeared when I was about midway – it’s been years and I still have never seen it again. I don’t mind – actually I think it’s funny that it happened to this book in particular! When I saw the Anniversary Edition from Penguin (which has a truly amazing cover) I decided to buy it.
Review: This is a book that has had such an impact on culture that hardly anyone, even those who have never read the book, hasn’t heard about the concept of Big Brother (who is always watching). “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a dystopian novel which follows the story of one individual, Winston Smith, who lives in Oceania, one of the three remaining super-powers in the world. Oceania lives in a constant state of war, and their inhabitants disappear behind the needs of the Party, the ruling collective mind of those in power.
Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, which concerns itself with changing the past according to what the Party needs. Every historical document ever made is constantly being reinvented and adapted to the present, so that contradictions never exist. Human memories are all but obliterated, and the truth becomes what the collective mind can remember. However, Smith, born before the Party rose to power, is sure he can remember a time when things were totally different.
The book goes much deeper than just presenting the story. In fact, it felt more like an exercise, or study, if you will, on the organization of society, the economic and social needs for the war, the viewing of power as an end (as opposed to being a means to an end), the controlling of people until they are only a shadow of what we would consider human. In this world there is no privacy, there is no individual – the people are described as being cells in the body of the Party, inconsequential and unimportant by themselves, unless in relation to the whole. Every effort made is towards the advancement of the control the Party has over everyone, but at the same time that control must be unconscious. The contradictions are solved by applying doublethink – the power to accept two contradictory facts as simultaneously true.
Like any well-made dystopia, this is a chilling book that successfully explores the extremes to which a totalitarian, completely controlled regime could go, and the ugly consequences of the quest for power. Recommended for everyone.
What’s Next: I’m interested in reading more dystopias, and have already added some to my wish list. I think they’re a great way to study human behaviour and society.
Next on my reading list is maybe a graphic novel or some fiction… Since I now have around 50 books in my shelf it’s getting kinda hard to decide what to read next!