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.