02 February 2019

Book Review: 2084: The End of the World by Boualem Sansal

This was a very captivating book. If you liked reading George Orwell's 1984 (which coincidentally happens to be the only novel I have read twice), then this is sort of a sequel to that, in a loose sense. 2084 definitely builds on ideas presented in 1984, and takes it further. However, while the intention seems promising, I also think that it went a little bit over the top, and in the end it became too complicated.

2084 presents the story of Ati, a resident of Abistan. Abistan is a totalitarian country, similar to 1984's Oceania. Time seems to have stopped in Abistan, where there is no history, no past, and no future. Everything revolves at the present, and there's a god, Yölah, and his delegate, Abi. There are plenty of parallels to Muslim dogma, i.e., there is one God, Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet. In fact, 2084 feels like the ideal world or utopia if you let fundamentalist Islamic groups like ISIS actually rule.

In this world, everyone and their mother is a spy, and would potentially denounce you if you for some reason express even an inkling of doubt, that you don't believe in Yölah and Abi. It also reminds me of my experience growing up within the Jehovah's Witnesses, which is also a fundamentalist cult, where everyone keeps everyone else on their toes, so that everyone ends up behaving as "model Christians" in front of the cult leaders.

Anyway, Ati starts to get seeds of doubt, and starts to have questions about his world. These questions lead him to an adventure, where he realises that there might be a world beyond Abistan. However, the sad thing is that it is really hard to exit this world, and in the end, perhaps similar to the way other dystopian novels end, this novel doesn't have a happy ending. It gives the reader a feeling of hopelessness, since the Abistani infrastructure is so well-grounded and hard to dismantle.

One thing that bugs me in this novel, and prevents me from giving it a full 5 stars, is the fact that it becomes too complicated at the end. It's only 250 pages long, but it seems that the author has pulled all the plugs in describing how the world of Abistan revolved. Sure, there are so many parallels to Islamic fundamentalism, and to fundamentalism in general, but at some point, one would hope that the characters are developed too. In this case, even in the final chapters, there are new features about this fucked up world that are still being described and presented as new. At some point I just stopped following, and stopped caring. Ati the main character was left very shallow and plain. I was able to get inside the head of Winston Smith in 1984 than in Ati's in 2084. So while 1984 was a political dystopian novel, 2084 started pivoting toward science fiction and satire, which in my opinion was slightly sad given the seriousness of the topic.

Overall I think it is a great book to read, with some reservations. The topic is very important and is worth everyone's attention, but I am afraid that the plot complications that the author introduced somewhat dilutes the message of the book. In any case, if you enjoyed 1984 then you might enjoy this one too. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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