It's George Orwell Day today; he died 63 years ago.Margaret Atwood wrote about him in the My Hero section of the Guardian Review.
Here are a couple of snippets from her article. I particularly love the 1949 cover of the paperbook (which Atwood read and is pictured above) with Julia wearing her Anti-Sex League Badge. It kind of reminds me of the Silver Ring Thing in the States, the one wear girls (and boys to a lesser extent) marry Jesus Christ and promise to remain faithful to him rather than having sex with your regular, earthly boy. It works for a little while, but the hormones build up, the frustration starts to show and before you know it, pregnancy and STD rates are way higher than they wear before Jesus ever entered the teenage love equation. But as Atwood states, one mustn't judge a book by its cover.
I am forever grateful to Orwell for alerting me early to the danger flags I've tried to watch out for since. As Orwell taught, it isn't the labels – Christianity, socialism, Islam, democracy, two legs bad, four legs good, the works – that are definitive, but the acts done in their names.
Then along came Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published in 1949. I read it in paperback (the copy of which is pictured here) a couple of years later, when I was in high school. Then I read it again, and again. It struck me as more realistic, probably because Winston Smith was more like me, a skinny person who got tired a lot and was subjected to physical education under chilly conditions – a feature of my school – and who was silently at odds with the ideas and the manner of life proposed for him. (This may be one of the reasons Nineteen Eighty-Four is best read when you are an adolescent; most adolescents feel like that.)
Orwell, of course, was flawed in his own way, but then isn't everybody. Pankaj Mishra pointed this out in the Guardian a few weeks back, suggesting that many of the Western authors who are so heavy on Chinese Nobel winner Mo Yan, should perhaps start looking at themselves first.