1984 – George Orwell – book review and more.

Eric Arthur Blair – better known by his pen name George Orwell – was a man very much ahead of his time. The novel 1984 was written in 1948 and published in 1949 – a year before Orwell’s death in 1950 (at the relatively young age of 47), and yet so much of what he wrote about in his novel has been mirrored in todays society. Here we are 70 years after his death and 36 years after the dreaded year – 1984 – and so much that Orwell wrote about is happening today.

One of a multitude of different covers to 1984

For example, in the book, the world has been divided into 3 almost equal super powers. We have Oceania which is comprised of much of the English speaking world – The UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Naturally the USA are the leaders. We have EastAsia which is lead by China and we have EurAsia – mainly the European mainland countries lead by Russia. Then there is a mishmash of countries around the equator – many of the African countries, middle eastern countries and Indonesia. These don’t fall into any specific “Super Power region” but are in a constant state of being fought over, won or lost by the 3 super powers. Pretty much like the reality of today with three super powers the USA, Russia and China bossing the rest of the world around, particularly the USA who seem hell bent on extracting “their oil” from underneath the foreign sands of various middle eastern nations, gold and diamonds, precious metals and uranium from under African soil.

The super power countries (in the book) are constantly at war with one another, with little or no territory lost or gained except for the aforementioned equatorial nations. We come to learn from the book, that this constant war footing is what helps to keep the existing gap between the rich and the poor members of society. If spending on war was not necessary, the general standard of living could be lifted giving everyone access to running water, electricity, food, modern appliances, a car and more. And indeed is one of the 3 principles of “Big Brother and The Party” – War is Peace. The other 2 being Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. Add to this a lot of little rules and the fact that everyone is spying on everyone else and of course Big Brother is watching, listening to and monitoring every move that everyone makes. This is made possible in the book by the Tele-screens in every home and every public building that both serve to broadcast news (propaganda) and are a means to watch – to see into every home and public building.

Back when Orwell wrote 1984, in 1948 or even in 1984 itself, the idea that the government was watching and listening to us all the time would appear to be very far fetched, but of course these days we have personal mobile phones (smart phones), laptops, iPads, smart watches, Fitbits, smart TV’s – even smart appliances – that are capable of transmitting pictures and sound to anyone who knows how to write a computer program. Every word, every deed, every text, every email, every photo or video we take on our smart phones can all be accessed by the government or other powers that be. It may not be Big Brother who is watching us, but it is big government or big business or big military…..the Secret Service, CIA, SIS, Five-Eyes….you name it.

Now the thing is, in the book, all this is controlled by a few people in the inner circle of the Party, with other lesser important party business being conducted by the outer circle of Party members. These two sets of people make up only 15% of the overall population. The general laborious jobs are done by the Proles – people like you and me – who make up the other 85% of the population. The Proles are kept in check by the Party faithful who make sure that the Proles are kept in a cycle of breeding, caring for children, working and being kept busy by trivia – such as arguing with their neighbours, drinking beer, watching football, movies and gambling. Throw into the mix the internet and on-line gaming (something that Orwell didn’t specifically name) and we pretty much have todays society. Kids are indoctrinated at an early age with information/misinformation that they devour and regurgitate as fact – never really thinking for themselves (because ignorance is strength) – the Proles ignorance as to how the world really operates is the Party’s strength. “We pledge allegiance to the flag….” – history is written by the victors and is not allowed to be questioned. Anyone who shows any inkling of being capable of intelligent thought is considered dangerous and is removed – they disappear – are vaporized. A few agents of the Thought Police spread false rumours and mark down and eliminate the few individuals considered by the Party inner circle to be a danger to the status quo. Much like the Patriot Act allows the US Government to disappear anyone who is considered a threat. To take people from their homes, places of work or simply off the street and hold them without charge, indefinitely, in a secret location or to execute them and get rid of the bodies without recourse. You don’t even have to have committed a crime – just appear as a potential threat. It may seem that I am singling out the USA as the main perpetrators of these Orwellian excesses, but most countries have a similar law allowing the government of the day to keep the people downtrodden and obedient. This is the job, in the book, of the Thought Police. Like I said in the opening paragraph, Orwell was a man very much ahead of his time.

The main character in the book is a man called Winston who is part of the outer Party and is employed re-writing newspaper articles, books, records – anything that is contra to the Party line. The problem is that the Party line changes constantly so history is being constantly rewritten. If the Party say that 2 plus 2 equals 5…..then this is fact and anyone who insists that 2 plus 2 equals 4 is a menace to society and has to be dealt with. The problem is that Winston is capable of logical thought and seeks out others who he believes have ideas in opposition to the Party line. One such person, Julia, even suggests that the rocket bombs constantly bombarding the area that the Proles live do not come from outside Oceania and are not fired by the enemy, as stated by the Party officials in the guise of Big Brother, but are in fact a product of the Party’s actions to keep the public feeling under constant threat and to bring out the most very basic patriotic feelings to unite the 85% with the party faithful against the common enemy of EastAsia or EurAsia – who ever the Party says that they are at war with at that particular time. In our society Julia would be called a conspiracy theorist. Again….does this sound familiar? How often, when a distraction is needed for the government to introduce stricter/tighter “security” – meaning removing certain public rights or freedoms – do we suddenly have a Terrorist attack or a threat of war from a Rogue Nation who have broken this or that rule….although exactly what rule is broken and the evidence of such rule breaking is never exposed to the light of day, or the public gaze.

How often have Terrorist plots been thwarted by the CIA and been given major media time? The answer is quite a lot. How many of the Terrorist plots thwarted by the CIA were actually masterminded by, funded by, armed by, or corrupted by the CIA? The answer is every single time. The only plots exposed by the CIA, over the years, have been the plots that the CIA operatives have had a hand in creating. Thus justifying their own jobs.

One also has to wonder how many of the terrorist events that have happened and were not thwarted by the CIA, or other nations equivalent department, were also a product of government or powers behind the government, rather than genuine terrorists. The conspiracy theorists are given that title by the state owned media in order to discredit them. If they were called “truth seekers” rather than “conspiracy theorists” maybe more people would listen to them?

How often have terrorist events happened the very day, or the next day, that the exact event was being trained for by special forces or the armed offender squad? The answer is too often. Take the 7/7 bombings in London – not only was the exact scenario being practiced – the bombing of buses and trains – but the exact same train stations were targeted in the event as in the training scenario. Even by a long stretch of the imagination, this is too coincidental. Similarly the Christchurch mosque shooting – police were two blocks away training for the exact same event. There is no smoke without fire and it seems to be the authorities who are fanning the flames. As a result we have armed police on the streets of Britain with stop and search rights, CCTV cameras on every street corner and in and outside every public building, on trains, on buses, in taxies, cameras on the major roads and motorway bridges monitoring the movement of the public. In New Zealand after the shooting the government moved swiftly to bring in new and very restrictive gun laws. Something that the American people can at least argue against with their constitutions second amendment.

Speaking of the USA – they have been constantly at war either with another country or fighting the war on terrorism or the war on drugs or the war on….whatever, since their independence. The problem in 1984 was how to keep the Proles working, the wheels of industry turning, the profits swelling the accounts of the rich, without increasing the real wealth of the world as a whole. As per the book, War is Peace – meaning – as mentioned earlier – that constant war footing and financing keeps the general population controlled and poor and unable to make the advances needed to improve their lot in life. Life is a struggle and they are kept in a constant cycle of work, eat, sleep, work – breed, to provide the next generation of drones that keep the system operating and the elites at the top of the food chain and getting richer. Orwell knew his stuff alright.

The only way that the Proles see of bettering their lot is by winning the lottery, which the Party rigs so that only small denomination prizes are actually paid out. The top prize rolls over and rolls over and finally jackpots and is “won” by a faceless, nameless person who may not even exist. Thus swelling the coffers of the Party faithful. Again….does this sound familiar?

In the novel 1984 we have a department which deals with “newspeak” – they whittle away at old words and phrases and bring in simpler, more suitable words that are acceptable to the Party – a kind of dumbing down – a reduction of peoples vocabulary. Similar things have happened in reality, but its not only a dumbing down of vocabulary but a general lowering of standards. This is reflected in our education system, where we change the exam system to make it easier to pass – in the media by the dumbing down of TV programs – we have fewer real news programs or documentaries and more “reality tv” or cooking programs or celebrity this or celebrity that. Its entertainment for the lobotomised. It keeps us controllable and suggestible to whatever the powers that be want us to believe – just like Big Brother and the Party control the Proles.

In the book the Proles and the outer party members are all controlled by the inner party and Big Brother (who himself may or may not exist). They are expected to tow the, every more stringent, Party line, and to conform in word, thought and deed. Anyone who does not conform is considered a pariah and suffers the wrath of the Party and also the general population who spy on and report one another to the authorities. Even family members report on one another, with children attending a sort of spy camp and given instructions to spy on and report on their own parents. It’s a constant threat. Does this sound familiar? Do I even dare to mention the PC society and the me too movement? So many things that were acceptable a generation ago are now frowned upon. Even humour is affected. Comedians dare hardly crack a joke for fear of being branded racist, sexist, ageist, anti-sematic, sizeist, homophobic, disrespectful of this or that person or group or religion or region or someone’s gender fluidity…or…or. Jobs can no longer be offered to the most qualified person – we have to get the right balance of gender, sexuality, race, religion….Any business or organization that does not have a 50-50 balance of males Vs females, particular in upper management, is considered sexist. Where does it stop? We’re constantly pointing the finger at non-conformists – just like the children in 1984 are exposing their parents as traitors. With all these divisions and distractions the elites will always be able to pull the wool over the eyes of the Proles. Divide and conquer has always and will always be the rule. Whether it be in 1984 or in real life….the lines are blurring more every day.

As a novel 1984 is an interesting story. Orwell was not just a writer, but a visionary. It’s a book that everyone should read for so many reasons. Just like one of his other books “Animal Farm” was a commentary on the Russian revolution – 1984 is a comment on the direction we are allowing our lives to be manipulated today, as we continue to trade freedom for “security”. It’s a thought provoking book. Definitely worth reading and discussing with family and friends.

I’ll just leave you with a couple of quotes from the book and ask you to think if it applies to how we are being manipulated in reality.

“know that this or that item of war news is untruthful and often the entire war is spurious and either not happening or being waged for purposes other than the declared one…….with Oceania (read USA) the undisputed master of the entire world”.

“The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought…..how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand”.

Regarding the morale of the masses “whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work”.

My next book is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rule Britannia – another dystopian novel. Nowhere near as extreme as 1984, it takes place in the 1970’s and concerns the take over of the UK by United States military. I’m already well into the book and will post a review once finished.

Once again, if you’ve stuck with me this far….thank you for reading….and your comments, likes, shares etc are most appreciated. What are you reading? Can anyone recommend any other dystopian novels?

I’m in trouble again because of books.

It’s been a great week for buying books…..but it’s also gotten me into trouble….again. My wife and I agree on many things, but books are not one of those things. My belief is that you can never have too many books, where as my wife says I already have too many books. So to admit to buying another 20 over a 7 day period was like an alcoholic admitting he’s fallen off the wagon again……Not quite the same thing I know.

My 20 book’s in one week purchase.

I guess I should explain how I came to buy another 20 books. Wednesday 14th Nov I had been given a ticket to a book expo at our local library, by my sister-in-law (another self confessed bibliophile). The expo was co-hosted by the library, a book publisher and “Poppies” book store – one of our local independents. Representitives from each of these discussed their favourite books of the year and presented about 40 books to tell us about. All very interesting and especially so for me, being my first ever book expo.

About half way through the presentation, a local author – Linda Trubridge – gave us a talk about her recently published book called “Passages”. A very apt title – about which I’ll explain shortly. Linda, her husband David and sons Sam and William are all very successful in their own fields. David is an internationally renown Artist/Designer and furniture maker and has exhibited his designs all over the world including at the Victoria and Albert museum in the UK and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Sam is a performance artist, actor and director and William is the world freediving record holder.

Linda is also an artist in pencil, paint and sculpture. One of her sculptural pieces graces the local village square. And now of course she can add published writer to her resume.

The book is partly about the Trubridge’s as a family and also about how after being settled living in the north of England in a rural stone built cottage, they suddenly decided to sell up, buy a boat and spend the next 10 years at sea – visiting the islands of the Caribbean before continuing on through the Panama Canal and down through the South Pacific to wind up in New Zealand – where they finally settled.

So the title Passages – reflects the passage of time, the passage of the boat through the oceans, the passage and development of themselves as a family unit and of course passages of print on the pages of the book. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but just browsing a few pages it’s a very nicely written book – almost poetic really. I will probably give a full review once I have read it.

So “Passages” was book number one of my 20. I was very restrained at the expo and this was my only purchase – bought from the author and signed with a nice little message inside. I first met Linda over 15 years ago when I attended two series of “Life Drawing” courses she was teaching at Adult Education evening classes at the local high school. So it’s nice on a personal level to have a book of hers on my bookshelf.

The next day was my birthday (happy birthday to me…happy birthday to me…). My brother and sister-in-law gave me a voucher to be spent on books at another of our independents “Wardini’s” book shop – who deserve a blog post of their own…and I will get around to it soon….as they do such great work.

On the following Saturday we had the Hastings Lions annual charity book sale. This is where the bulk of my purchases occurred – 15 books in all. One of Stephen Fry’s biographies “More Fool Me”, was the first to go into my bag. I have a bit of a soft spot for Fry. He’s a very intelligent and witty writer.  Two books of photographs titled “The Forties in Pictures” and “The Sixties in Pictures” – each book containing some nice black and white photos of their era – although the 60’s one also had a smattering of colour photos too, were the next books to go into the bag. Being a keen photographer myself, they make a nice addition to my collection of photography books. Next was “Paris was Ours” edited by Penelope Rowlands – 32 writers reflect on the city of lights. If you have read any of my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I am a big fan of Paris and of any writers who write about Paris, so I just had to buy this one. The front inlay of the book begins “Paris is the world capital of memory and desire..” and that really says it all for me. Having visited Paris just the once, for a week in 2016, I have happy memories and a deep desire to return very soon.

The next book is Asne Seierstad’s “The Bookseller of Kabul”. Another weakness of mine are books about books or about book shops or book sellers. This is a true story about a book seller and his family in Kabul who Asne Seierstad lived with for a 4 month period. “For more than 20 years Sultan Khan defied the authorities – be they communist or Taliban – to supply books to the people of kabul. He was arrested, interrogated and imprisoned by the communists and watched illiterate Taliban soldiers burn piles of his books in the street”. It’s not just a story about books though it’s also about censorship and the contrasting views of the value and the place of women in Afghanistan society.

Then comes a book by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’d already seen the movie so wanted to read the book of “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” to see how it measured up. I loved the movie – actually watched it twice – so am quite keen to get started on this one soon.

“Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull – subtitled “A New Life in Paris” – It just sucked me right in with the title. Another book about Paris….new beginnings in the city of lights, love and romance….and how the seduction of Paris eventually overwhelms even the strongest soul. According to the blurb on the back cover – Funny, perceptive, poignant, adventurous and magical. We’ll see. 

Next come two books by New Zealander Joe Bennett. I have already read a couple of his books – he’s not Bill Bryson, but he’s pretty good. Wry observations as he travels from one place to the next. He was born in Eastbourne in the UK and “Mustn’t Grumble” is about his first visit home after 15 years as he rediscovers what it really means to be English. The second book of his “Hello Dubai” – is about a trip to guess where? Yes Dubai – with all its opulence and extremes. The subtitle “Skiing, Sand and Shopping in the World’s weirdest City” says it all.

“Vroom with a View” – is another travelogue – another weakness of mine (books about travel). Peter Moore is yet another amusing travel writer. I have read his books before and really enjoyed them so when I saw that – influenced by a late night commercial warning that life comes to an end after 40 – he’d bought a 1961 Vespa to tour Italy “in search of the Dolce Vita” –  I just had to get the book.

Bulgarian born poet and writer Kapka Kassabova, grew up under communism in 1980’s Bulgaria. She got away as soon as she could and settled in New Zealand where she published two novels and several poetry books. Now living in Scotland, “Street Without a Name” is her story of re-visiting Bulgaria and of her muddled relationship with the country of her birth. The back of the book says “With the irreverence of an ex-pat and the curiosity of a visitor Kapka takes a humerous and unflinchingly honest look at Europe’s newest member, and brilliantly captures the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past”. Yes I know…another travelogue.

“I am Pilgrim” – Terry Hayes. I know nothing about this book. I had been browsing in Poppies book shop a few days earlier and noticed this book selling at around $40 for the paperback. One of the reviews of it said it was a cross between Jack Reacher and James Bond, AND since it was only $2 at the book sale I thought why not?

I haven’t read much poetry since leaving school, so when I saw W.B. Yeats – “Collected Poems”- I thought it was time to reacquaint myself.  J.B. Priestly wrote that Yeats “was a poet first, last, and all the time. Not only a great poet but probably the greatest poet of this century”. Praise indeed.

My final 2 books from the Lion’s sale were both by Mira Grant and are books 2 and 3 of a trilogy of Zombie books. I enjoy a good fast paced mindless Zombie book every now and then so “Deadline” and “Blackout” fit the bill nicely. The first book in the series is called “Feed” of which reviewers raved “perfect summer apocalypse reading…gripping, thrilling and brutal…”. I am now about half way through “Deadline” and am eager to get back to it tonight. Definitely a book to be read in bed…..with a machete and baseball bat under the covers!

Meantime I had – I am almost ashamed to admit – ordered a book on line. It was one that I had had from the local library but since I am going to visit San Francisco next year I wanted a copy of national Geographic Traveler’s “San Francisco” for myself – one that I can make notes in the margins and deface with highlighter pens in preparation for my trip. It arrived Monday.

My final day Tuesday I had arranged to meet my brother for lunch and thinking that he’d probably be late, decided that it may be a wise thing to pop into the Hawke’s Bay Book Exchange – a second hand book shop, and grab something to read while I waited. I spent some time browsing and was amazed at how expensive some of the books were for their condition. For example, a hard cover Bill Bryson book called “One Summer” – originally priced at a little over $50 brand spanking new, was now slightly worn and dogeared and yet they were wanting $40 for it. No way was I paying that much for a second hand book. Eventually settling for the biography of Norman Wisdom “My Turn” for $6.50 in paperback I scurried off for lunch. Naturally my brother wasn’t late so I didn’t need the book anyway. BUT I will enjoy reading it ….eventually.

So that is 18 in total….leading up to my final 2 purchases. After lunch I headed back to Havelock North village and to one of my favourite book shops “Wardini’s” – with the intention of spending my birthday book voucher. As you would have already gathered, travel is one of my favourite subjects and pastimes, so when I saw Lonely Planet had a very nice picture book out of “Amazing Train Journeys”, I knew where most of that birthday voucher was going. For me, if I can travel long distances by train rather than by car or plane, I will. I simply love travelling via the rails. 

And to round off my 20 books, an oldie but a goodie. A book that I read in school and wanted to re-read – Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – just to remind myself of how much he actually got right when writing this dystopian novel back in 1948. The movie staring John Hurt was pretty good too.

Now…I don’t know if this is good news, or bad news, but I just heard that this coming Friday,  The Friends of the Library at Hastings City Library are holding their annual book sale. All discarded Library books are to be snapped up for only 50 cents each. I think I’m heading for more trouble!

Until next time…….it’s time for breakfast – strawberries picked fresh from the garden.