The once-banned dystopian novel that has become Russia’s bestseller

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is the most popular fiction download of 2022 on Russia’s online book-selling platform

Shweta Sharma
Friday 16 December 2022 14:35 GMT
<p>A man reads a Russian translation of George Orwell’s book 1984 at Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square</p>

A man reads a Russian translation of George Orwell’s book 1984 at Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, about citizens living under an oppressive regime that is continuously engaged in a senseless war, has become the most-read book in Russia.

The classic novel is the most popular download of 2022 on Russia’s online bookseller LitRest, and the second most popular book downloaded in any category, according to state news agency Tass.

English author Eric Arthur Blair, who was better known by his pen name George Orwell, published the novel in 1949, shortly after the Second World War and before the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union began. It was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.

The plot of the novel traces the journey of a man who remains under the surveillance of the regime’s ruling party, known as “the Party”, which is controlled by a mysterious totalitarian leader called “Big Brother”.

The author said he had used the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, an erstwhile ally of the West, as his model for the cult of personality of Big Brother, whose so-called Thought Police force cowed citizens to engage in “doublethink” in order to believe what they are told.

In the novel, the slogan of the Party is “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

As Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his war in Ukraine in February this year, his government imposed new laws banning journalists from describing what it called a “military operation” as a “war” or an “invasion”. It also downplayed the protests against the war, though several military personnel spoke out against the president.

Officials in Moscow continue to maintain that the Kremlin bears no malice towards Ukraine, that Russia did not attack its neighbour, and that Russian troops are not occupying Ukrainian territories Russia has seized and annexed.

In its attempt to crack down on people criticising the war, the Russian government last week sentenced opposition politician Ilya Yashin to almost nine months in jail on charges of spreading “false information” about the army. It was after he discussed evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv.

Darya Tselovalnikova, a Russian translator of a brand new edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, has drawn parallels with Orwell’s novel elsewhere.

“Orwell could not have dreamt in his worst nightmares that the era of ‘liberal totalitarianism’ or ‘totalitarian liberalism’ would come in the West, and that people – separate, rather isolated individuals – would behave like a raging herd,” he said in May.

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