Book review: 2084: The End of the World

IT is now nearly 70 years since George Orwell’s fabulously dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published and in that time it has become one of the most influential books ever written. 

Boualem Sansal

Europa Editions, €13.65

Sales of the book recently soared after US president Donald Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, referred in January to “alternative facts”, a notion that comes straight out of Orwell’s prophetic work.

Some of its idiosyncratic phrases have entered the language and many people speak of Big Brother, doublethink and Room 101 without even realising the origin of such terms and ideas. 

The influence of the novel is evident in much contemporary literature spawning references, sequels and modern updates.

The novelist Anthony Burgess wrote a book called 1985 which comprised of a series of interviews and essays as well as a novella set in that year. 

A major theme of Burgess’s novel is of a London populated by rich Arabs and the use of Islam as a major force in the UK in tandem with mass immigration from the Middle East. 

Other writers to reference Nineteen Eighty-Four include Haruki Murakami, Cory Doctorow and Matthew Reilly while there are numerous allusions in film, stage, television and music.

Boualem Sansal’s novel 2084: The End of the World takes Orwell’s ideas further into the future and imagines a single kingdom named Abistan where the inhabitants submit to a single god, praying nine times a day and banning secular learning. As with Orwell’s book this is a political satire that highlights the perils of a totalitarian regime.

Despite an apparent happiness inherent among the members of the society here there is still a rigorous surveillance system creating a backdrop of fear and paranoia.

Heretics are treated just as ruthlessly here as any other such state and executions in the city square are common.

The central character in 2084: The End of the World, like Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, is a dreamer. He ponders on the contradictions he has seen during his journey back from the sanatorium in the “far reaches of the empire” to his neighbourhood in Qodsabad, the capital of Abistan.

Ati is troubled by the counter- evidence he has seen and the people he has met, wanderers and outcasts whose free-thinking provides an alternative truth to that put out by the authorities. 

Early on he meets Nas, an investigator from the Ministry of Archives, who has just returned from a secret archaeological site whose very existence brings into question some of the central tenets of the regime. 

Ati’s journey leads him to become more and more uneasy about the ‘facts’ told to him as he realises he needs to focus on his own experiences and what they can tell him about the world.

“To see, from the other side, what it was they had forbidden by means of such a long and perfect conspiracy; to find out, with terror or with joy, who we were, and what sort of world was ours,” he says.

Sansal is a controversial writer whose works are banned in his native Algeria. His An Unfinished Business was the first work of fiction by an Arab writer to recognise the Holocaust. 

In 2084: The End of the World he provokes further controversy by probing open the workings of a religious fundamentalist society and the corruption and conspiracy that lies within.

Like Orwell before him Sansal is a writer determined to show the costs of extremism and the dangers of ‘alternative facts’, it is a dark and unsettling read.

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