About three books with a dystopian theme

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin

If you’re a George Orwell fan, I strongly recommend you read this book. Written under a pseudonym, the book describes the author’s journey through Burma, in an attempt to prove that Orwell’s 1984was based on the political situation still in place in this country governed by the military. There are passages or/and references from/to 1984, Burmese Days, Animal Farm and other works by Orwell. Having read the first two, it was easier to understand the narrative and follow the author’s travels to places where Orwell had lived. If, however, you are new to the books of Orwell, it’s best if you wait until you’ve read them before you give this book a try. Things will make much more sense if you do. I’m glad I had the chance to read them before and this book felt like a nice finishing touch. Not to mention that I’ve added Burma on the list of countries I want to visit. And, ironically, a few weeks after I did, I almost got my wish.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

I can never think about dystopia without 1984springing to mind in an instant. That book was my first introduction into this genre and I loved it. That is why it took me a while to get into Brave New World – I was afraid it would be too much like Orwell’s book but fortunately it isn’t.
Huxley creates distinctive characters in a book that takes a slightly different approach from Orwell’s. There are two separate worlds: one of strict rules, mindless tasks and orderliness, and the other, more like a roadside attraction, where the old ways are still in place: rituals, marriage, but also disease and poverty. John and Bernard belong to these two worlds and each gets to experience the other side but as they do tragedy follows.
I would say give this book a try, even if it’s just to see a different dystopian perspective, although I have to say that 1984 remains my favorite.

The Birth of Love, by Joanna Kavenna

What could a supposed madman, a woman about to give birth and a prisoner trapped in an Orwellian-like world, have in common?
Ignaz Sommelweis is believed mad and as he struggles in the hands of his captors, hope and despair mingle in his mind. It’s Vienna, in the year 1865.
Brigid is a woman living in present day London. The mother of a young boy and pregnant with her second child, she experiences the pangs of childbirth and knows the time has come.
In 2153, a prisoner bearing a number instead of a name is showed into a cell and she thinks back to a time when she was free of the system, when life was hard but she was happy.
Switching between past, present and future, the author describes the “worlds” these three characters inhabit; it’s depressing and harsh and painful, but brief rays of hope come true, even if just for a moment. It was an interesting reading experience – there’s a lot of symbolism: the moon, wine/blood, even a supposed “virgin birth” which bring religion into focus, medical knowledge; description of the pangs of birth, which was difficult to read. Would I recommend it? Yes, for the nicely flowing narrative which manages to incorporate all three stories into an almost seamless tale.

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16 Responses to About three books with a dystopian theme

  1. Jenners says:

    I’ve been meaning to read A Brave New World. Thanks for another reminder to actually do it!

  2. I do tend to like dystopian novels though have only read the Huxley of these three here. I have the Larkin in my TBR pile though and really want to find time to squeeze it in. So far I haven’t managed to … bad me!

    • Delia says:

      You should, it’s a good book well worth reading but only if you’re familiar with some of Orwell’s novels.
      What did you think about “Brave New World”?

      • Oh it’s too long ago now to give a detailed response to that Delia so I won’t! As for Orwell, I am familiar with quite a few of his works: Animal farm, 1984, Burmese Days, Homage to Catalonia, and some of his essays – so I’m sure, as you say, I’l like the Larkin.

  3. Vishy says:

    Nice reviews, Delia! I have read only ‘Animal Farm’ by Orwell, but haven’t read ‘1984’. I hope to read it sometime. ‘Brave New World’ looks really interesting from your description. I loved the title of Joanna Kavenna’s book. The story reminds me of a movie called ‘The Fountain’ which has plot arcs from different eras which come together. There seem to be a lot of similarities between Kavenna’s book and this movie.

    I haven’t read a lot of dystopian fiction. The only ones I can think of are ‘V for Vendetta’ by Alan Moore (graphic novel) and ‘Matched’ by Allie Condie (YA book). I need to explore the genre more.

    • Delia says:

      The Fountain was a weird movie and I enjoyed it – I can see why it would remind you of Joanna Kavenna’s book.
      As for dystopian novels, “1984” is the best I’ve read so far, but Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is very good as well and it’s a short book, you can read it in one day. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  4. Aths says:

    Brave New World didn’t agree with me all that much, but I really want to read Birth of Love! Been hearing so much about it!

    • Delia says:

      The Birth of Love is an interesting book but some of the scenes put me off having children. The labor pains described were just too much for me. I liked the other stories though, especially the dystopian part.

  5. JoV says:

    I didn’t finished The Birth of Love. I find the three stories narrative a bit dishevelled and I lost the plot. Not sure I’ll ever want to try it. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is another one but I don’t like it that much. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist is another Scandinavian one which I will read, similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.
    I suspect dystopia may not be my thing, but I do love 1984 and would like to know if Haruki Murakami’s version 1Q84 lives up to the classic.
    Thanks for the recommendation though.

    • Delia says:

      It was a bit challenging to keep track of the way the narratives overlapped and see the connections in “The Birth of Love” – nevertheless it was an interesting book.
      I’ve read “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood a few years ago and didn’t like it much. That is why I’m somehow reluctant to try another one of her books. “The Unit”…sounds familiar but I haven’t read it.
      I saw Haruki Murakami’s new book in the stores but the size of it put me off for now…
      Have you read “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury? It’s one of my favorite books.

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