1985 by Gyorgy Dalos

1985

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Published in Germany in '82, in Britain in '83, this compact, witty sequel to Orwell's 1984 is both more and less political than the original. On the one hand, Dalos' scenario, with echoes of Hungary 1956 and Prague Spring, is more firmly focused on Stalinism than the broader Orwell vision of totalitarianism. On the other hand, the Hungarian writer's antic cynicism often merely satirizes individual pettiness, hypocrisy, and pretension--with human nature more of a villain than any system. The book at hand is supposedly the work of a 2036 Eurasian historian: through memoir-fragments and period documents, the author pieces together the events of 1985 in the onetime empire of Oceania, providing up-to-date footnotes along the way. The year begins with the death of Big Brother--which leaves the Inner Party leadership in feuding disarray. (Hard-line ""Aluminists"" vs. the moderate ""Paper faction."") To shore up support for the system, then, O'Brien of the Thought Police seeks the help of 1984's Winston Smith, who ambivalently agrees to found and edit a new periodical called--fairly hilariously--the Times Literary Supplement; it will promote the start of quiet reforms, an end to the constant losing war with Eurasia. Soon, indeed, a full-blown reform movement is underway, led by Winston's old love Julia and other 1984 survivors: divorce is legalized; hack-poet Ampleforth publishes antiwar verse in TLS; Hamlet is performed--with a revolutionary subtext. But the movement is doomed, of course: there's a humiliating peace treaty with Eurasia, food shortages; one reformer commits suicide (""too much freedom""); the Intellectuals' Reform Association is rendered useless by farcical factionalism. And, when some real ""proles"" stage an uprising, many of the intellectuals sell out to moderation (Smith is the prime exception)--with a ""provisional government"" that puts down the revolution. . . and is swallowed up by Eurasia. Dalos' primary target, then, seems to be the self-involved, pseudo-revolutionary intellectuals. But there are subtle complications and ambiguities throughout--as well as a few absurdist flights and the increasingly hysterical footnotes of the author-historian (suggesting that things are even worse in 2036 than then are in 1985). So, though too oblique and allusive for a broad readership, this is a clever, thought-provoking political fable--slight yet dense, gloomy yet funny.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1984
Publisher: Pantheon