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You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984.It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world.The book was published in 1949, when Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but Lynskey dates its biographical sources back more than a decade to Orwell’s months in Spain as a volunteer on the republican side of the country’s civil war.His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.”Lynskey traces the literary genesis of 1984 to the utopian fictions of the optimistic 19th century—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); the sci-fi novels of H. Wells, which Orwell read as a boy—and their dystopian successors in the 20th, including the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932).
They pointed back to the 20th century—if it happened in Germany, it could happen here—and warned readers how easily democracies collapse.
He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard.
It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living.
The struggle to claim 1984 began immediately upon publication, with a battle over its political meaning.
Conservative American reviewers concluded that Orwell’s main target wasn’t just the Soviet Union but the left generally.