Brave New World ( 1932), Aldous Huxley. Amazon
Brave New World Revisited (1958), Aldous Huxley. Amazon
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story (1946), George Orwell. Amazon
Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), George Orwell. Amazon
In Hitler’s Bunker: A Boy Soldier’s Eyewitness Acount of the Fuhrer’s Last Days (2005), Armin D. Lehmann & Tim Carroll. Amazon
Globalization and Its Discontents (2002), Joseph Stiglitz. Amazon
Strength in What Remains (2009), Tracy Kidder. Amazon
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures (1997), Anne Fadiman. Amazon
I’m glad college has exposed me to types of books I haven’t tried to before. Turns out I like them a lot! This has been quite a thought-provoking summer. “Brave New World” and “Nineteen Eighty-four” are two readings for my first class at Stanford, “Technological Visions of Utopia” – two books that lead me to read other titles from the same author. The only ‘holiday task’ from Stanford is reading one short story and two books, namely “Strength in What Remains” and “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down“. We will have discussion with the authors at Orientation.
It occurred to me that Indonesian school system has been terribly undervaluing the benefits of assigned reading. It’s rare in the first place. When we did have a reading, tasks will be on language (synopsis, etc) , largely ignoring the topics and contents it brought forward. Books are perceived merely as a matter of language and not as a provoker of new ideas and thoughts. Somehow we are educated to read for the sake of the story itself, and not for the meaning behind it.
“Brave New World Revisited” is up first. Reading through the first chapters left me astonished – Aldous Huxley’s intellects shine through every pages; how he thinks of different things and put together all things, how he puts the often-overlooked things in words. In this book, he reexamined the dystopian predictions he made in “Brave New World” (released 30 years before), on several aspects: (1) overpopulation, (2) quantity, quality and morality, (3) over-organization, (4) propaganda, (5) arts of selling (6) brainwashing (7) chemical persuasion (8) hypnopaedia. The first half of the book is the highlight, as he presents the irony of advancing medicine that actually lowers general standard of living, that in turn encourages dictatorship, and the “Will to Order” that exists both in science and in dictatorships.
“All speeches by the entertainer-candidate must therefore be short and snappy. The great issues of the day must be dealt with in five minutes at the most — and preferably (since the audience will be eager to pass on to something a little livelier than inflation or the H-bomb) in sixty seconds flat. The nature of oratory is such that there has always been a tendency among politicians and clergymen to over-simplify complex is sues. From a pulpit or a platform even the most con scientious of speakers finds it very difficult to tell the whole truth. The methods now being used to merchandise the political candidate as though he were a deodorant positively guarantee the electorate against ever hearing the truth about anything.” (chapter “The Arts of Selling”)
Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four” and Huxley’s “Brave New World” are hard to find in Jakarta, and I got them from two friends from Australia (thanks guys!). These two most significant dystopian books of all time take two completely different approaches to dictatorship. Orwell’s includes manipulations of past, brainwashing camp, ‘thought-police’, surveillance, censorship and sexual repression. Huxley’s includes government-controlled natality and selective breeding, decantation-tube babies, conditioning, chemical use and ‘sexual recreation’. As social critic Neil Postman describes it:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.“
“Animal Farm” is perhaps the one I like most. This novel is really, really easy to read – feels a lot like those fable stories (“Kancil?”) that we used to read back then. Behind the animals and simple farm-activity stories, though, lies concepts of Stalinism and the dystopian world of “1984″. The farm mirrors Soviet Union, as pigs Napoleon and Snowball (Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky) led a revolution (allusion to Bolshevik Revolution) to overthrow men and create a farm where all animals are equal. It shows a happy early period, until its leaders fall into greed, and, as the ending proclaims, become as bad as the men they used to abhor. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.“
Tracy Kidder seems downplaying emotions and takes a rather cold jurnalistic approach to ”Strength in What Remains” – he seems confident that the story itself is strong and emotional enough that it doesn’t need an extra cheese. He’s right. The story of Deogratias, a Burundian Civil War refugee who ends up with no friends, without speaking English, in New York, is such a moving story about pertinacity human kindness. After struggling hard, he found help from strangers around him, worked his way up to Columbia University and returned to build clinics for his hometown. It shows glimpses of a life as a Burundian – the war, the people, the culture, and how it shapes Deo as a person. I would love to see Kidder delves more into the historical part of Hutu-Tutsi though.
Anne Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” opens my eyes to a whole new level of cultural understanding. This book follows Lia Lee, an epileptic Hmong baby girl, and the culture clash between her Hmong parents and her American doctors. “Spirit” alternates between Lia’s story and the history of Hmong, giving a complete picture of the Hmong’s train of thought often misunderstood by the West. Highly recommended especially to doctors.
I’m currently still reading Joseph Stiglitz’s “Globalization and its Discontents“, which is the first economic book I read (Robert Kiyosaki doesn’t count). The book reveals the principle and workings inside the IMF – how the organization forms and differentiates policies to developing countries (they don’t. they have single-recipe for everyone), how certain countries’ political motives affect those policies, and how it forces weak countries to welcome capitalism. This book is really eye-opening so far. Given that IMF policies to Indonesia seemed to throw us to a deeper hole, I feel a connection to this book and its topic.
I reread “In Hitler’s Bunker” this summer after watching BBC documentary of Nuremberg Trials. This is a personal account of Armin Lehmann, a young carrier who spends the last days of World War II in Fuhrer’s Bunker. It’s interesting to see how strongly Hitler influences the Germans – it’s hard to believe that despite the war’s falling apart, they still have faith in Hitler and his ideology and perceive their side as the right one. Through this book we are ‘invited’ to see Hitler’s inner circle at the end of the war – his meltdown, his lack of trust to his generals, his marriage to Eva Braun, Goebbels family’s death and his suicide. More than that, though, it shows war in the eyes of a young soldier, sacrifices and suffering that people endured for the ideology of one person.
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