LITERATURE

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984

Knopf. Jun. 2019. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9780385544054. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385544061. LIT
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OrangeReviewStarSince its 1949 UK publication, George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 has received steady critical attention. Consider Irving Howe's 1984 Revisited and On Nineteen Eighty-Four, ed. by Abbott Gleason and others. Journalist Lynskey (33 Revolutions per Minute) aims to bring this assessment up-to-date with his new novel "biography," its strength lying in its first part, which meticulously outlines Orwell's life and influences, followed by portraits of figures such as H.G. Wells and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We), and their impact on the writer. Lynskey probes Orwell's book reviews and the "As I Please" columns he wrote for the Tribune, arguing they provided a "kind of workshop" for the later novel. He then deals with the aftermath of Orwell's early death in 1950 and traces the familiar territory of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the fall of the Soviet Union, including valuable new material about the work's adoption by popular culture (e.g., British TV's The Prisoner and the reality show Big Brother), concluding with Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and its similarities to 1984's "Two Minutes Hate."
VERDICT While similar in approach to William Steinhoff's George Orwell and the Origins of 1984, this is an important contribution to Orwell studies and a timely introduction to the man and his most famous achievement.

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