Traces on George Orwell letter suggest he caught TB from Spanish hospital

Scientist claims it is likely that the illness that killed the novelist was contracted after he was wounded in the Spanish civil war

Scientific tests carried out on a letter sent by George Orwell shortly after his return from the Spanish civil war have suggested he may have caught the tuberculosis that killed him in a Spanish hospital.

The letter, written after the author came home from fighting against Franco’s fascist uprising in July 1937, was sent by Orwell to Sergey Dinamov, the editor of the Soviet journal Foreign Literature. It was tested by Gleb Zilberstein, a scientist who has previously identified traces of kidney disease on the manuscript of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Although it is well known that Orwell died from a haemorrhage caused by tuberculosis, it has not been clear where he caught it.

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The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump

From post-modernism to filter bubbles, ‘truth decay’ has been spreading for decades. How can we stop alternative facts from bringing down democracy, asks Michiko Kakutani

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling ...

Margaret Atwood: ‘I am not a prophet. Science fiction is really about now’

The TV adaptation of her dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale captured the political moment. Ahead of a new series, Atwood talks bestsellers, bonnets and the backlash against her views on #MeToo

“It was not my fault!” says Margaret Atwood of 2017. But it was certainly her year. Now, just a few weeks into January, she is already making headlines with typically trenchant comments on the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale returns this spring: she has read the first eight scripts and has “no fingernails left”. While the world – and Gilead – show no sign of getting any cheerier, Atwood is seemingly unstoppable. In March the New Yorker crowned her “the prophet of dystopia” and the TV adaptations of The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace has orbited her into an international stardom seldom experienced by novelists. Atwood was a consultant on both ...

Siddhartha Mukherjee: ‘Two hours writing, then a researcher knocks on the door with a pipette’

The author and oncologist on his red suede writing couch, his admiration for Orwell and his love of cell biology

By the time I sit down to write in my office, I’ve typically gone through several internal cycles of remission and relapse. I’ve probably finished my rounds in the cancer ward. Perhaps I’ve taught the red-eyed, exhausted overnight intern to recognise the difference between the drug rash from Amoxicillin (bright, angry, often harmless) and the innocuous-looking rash of immune rejection after a transplant (dusky, hazy, often deadly). Perhaps it’s eight in the morning now. I’ve had two shots of espresso. I might have written orders for chemo for a young woman with breast cancer, and – since her babysitter had to cancel this morning – I may have asked one of the nurses to distract a three-year-old daughter while another nurse puts an IV line into Mom’s arm. Then I ...

Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han – review

An examination of the internet age suggests that we should cultivate the heresies of secrets and silence

During a commercial break in the 1984 Super Bowl, Apple broadcast an ad directed by Ridley Scott. Glum, grey workers sat in a vast grey hall listening to Big Brother’s declamations on a huge screen. Then a maverick athlete-cum-Steve-Jobs-lackey hurled a sledgehammer at the screen, shattering it and bathing workers in healing light. “On January 24th,” the voiceover announced, “Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like [Orwell’s] Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

The ad’s idea, writes Korean-born German philosopher Byung-Chul Han, was that the Apple Mac would liberate downtrodden masses from the totalitarian surveillance state. And indeed, the subsequent rise of Apple, the internet, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google Glass means that today we live in nothing like the nightmare Orwell imagined. After all, Big Brother needed electroshock, sleep deprivation, solitary ...

Bethany on Jura by William Boyd: an original short story

A chance discovery leads George Orwell fanatic Bethany Mellmoth on a pilgrimage to the Scottish island where Nineteen Eighty-Four was written. But what will she find there?

Bethany Mellmoth hasn’t really registered the nature of the person sitting beside her as she makes the long tube journey homewards from her place of work, from Dalston, in the very east of London, to Fulham in the fairly far west. Male, tall, possibly a smoker – she can smell the cigarette smoke on him – would be the best description she could muster, if asked. She’s reading, not paying attention. But, as they pull into Fulham Broadway station, this indeterminate male stands up and makes his way through the crowd to the doors. Bethany follows. The train is full and some schoolkids are larking about, bumping into people. Bethany sees a book drop from the man’s bag as they brush clumsily by ...

Top 10 talking animals in books

From Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat to Franz Kafka’s ‘Ungeziefer’, linguistically gifted beasts have made for some of the most luminous characters in fiction

Animal characters in works of fiction have generally been used in a rather anthropomorphic way. This can be seen as a problem, though, and many say that reading animals as symbols of us reduces them, makes them smaller, steals their right to be seen as subjects who have their unique, distinctive way of existing. Others say that it’s not a problem at all because it’s not as if animals – even though they’re each different in shape and thought – will ever get to know what we write about them, how we place, use and interpret them and give them meaning through human filters.

Related: My Cat Yugoslavia review – the refugee experience as surreal comic fable

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George Orwell returns to loom over BBC

A larger-than-life statue of the author and former BBC employee has been unveiled outside Broadcasting House in London

On the threshold of the building he once described as a cross between a girl’s boarding school and a lunatic asylum, on an appropriately grey and drizzly day, George Orwell has returned to the BBC, cigarette in hand.

On the wall behind him a suitable confrontational quote from Animal Farm has been inscribed: “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

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How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed by Alan Jacobs review – excellent food for thought

Open your mind, relax… and take a step back from Twitter

Alan Jacobs has thought a lot about thinking, both as an academic and as a participant in various cultural discourses. How to Think is his leisurely treatise on the importance of maintaining a spirit of inquiry and resisting rigidity of thought, and is timely in its dissection of contemporary culture, including the rise of tabloid-fuelled populism, the dangers of echo chambers and the factionalism of the twittersphere. Jacobs is particularly acute on how the way we think is inextricably linked to our social prejudices and preconceptions, and the fallacies that underlie notions, such as “thinking for oneself”. Courteous and affable in tone, the book is neither academic study nor polemic, but rather an armchair reader for a vast and varied subject that leaves the reader with practical pointers and a list of interesting references to follow up: from George ...

Citizen Clem: ‘extraordinary biography’ of Clement Attlee wins Orwell prize

John Bew’s life of the self-effacing founder of the NHS praised by judges as a ‘monument to the greatest leader the Labour party has ever had’ “A model of the biographer’s art”, which pulls back the curtain on one of the most significant but least recognised political figures of the last century, has won Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. John Bew’s Citizen Clem, about Clement Attlee, the founder of the NHS, was named winner of the £3,000 2017 Orwell prize for books at a ceremony in London on Thursday night.
Prize judge and journalist Erica Wagner said: “For all [the judges], it really stood out as not just an extraordinary biography, but because this is a prize that celebrates great writing and, though all the books shortlisted were remarkable, Citizen Clem was a model of the biographer’s art.” Continue reading...

1984 review – stage adaptation confuses Orwell’s classic

Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation returns to Australia with changes to the core text that didn’t need to be made ​The adaptation of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, currently playing in Adelaide is an English production that came to the Melbourne Festival two years ago. Of its swift return to Australia, this time for a national tour, the playwrights Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan wrote: “Even more now than last time we visited, Orwell’s dystopian vision of a surveilled and totalitarian world seems horribly relevant.” Australian political events that make the story “horribly relevant” include the metadata retention laws that began in April, and the habit of successive immigration ministers of shoving truth down the “memory-hole”. (The chute used in 1984 to dispose of proof that doesn’t support the ruling party’s agenda.) Continue reading...

Hillsborough, Brexit and gun control: 2017 Orwell prize shortlist announced

With Orwell back in headlines due to the rise of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, six books with ‘something prescient to say’ are up for best political writing prize Six books that demonstrate how political writers have stepped up to the challenge of global change have been shortlisted for the prestigious Orwell prize for political writing. Ranging in topic from classic political biography to frontline reportage and revisionist history, all six had “something prescient to say”, the judges said. “We are at a huge moment in the history of the Western world like the rise of China and of populism, and these are issues that everyone is grappling with. We found writers are stepping up to the challenge,” judge Jonathan Derbyshire, executive comment editor of the Financial Times, said. He added: “I feel very optimistic about the future of political writing.” Continue reading...

Literature on the political frontline | Letters

As a book group we were motivated by the article by Danuta Kean (Report, 8 February) to do the same as the “mystery benefactor” she describes by giving away copies of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. A local bookshop in Norwich has agreed for us to buy the books at cost price. We intend to pile them up in the shop with a poster announcing the date they are to be given away. We will encourage recipients to pass on their copies once they’ve read them. With luck, this will help us reach beyond the bubble of those who already share our opposition to Donald Trump. We encourage other book groups to follow suit and spread the Read Up! Fight Back! campaign begun in Haight-Ashbury, California.
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Orwell and Atwood books given away to encourage readers to ‘fight back!’

A mystery benefactor in San Francisco has given away bulk copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale to bolster resistance to the new US regime George Orwell, Margaret Atwood and Erik Larson have been recruited in the resistance against US president Donald Trump by a mystery benefactor in San Francisco, who has paid for copies of the three authors’ most famous dystopian works to be given away with the exhortation: “Read up! Fight back!” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 50 copies of the Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four were bought on Friday night from Booksmith, located in the famous hippy district Haight-Ashbury. The books were snapped up quickly after they were placed on a table with a sign that read: “Read up! Fight back! A mystery benefactor has bought these copies of ‘1984’ for you if you need one.” Continue reading...

‘It will be called Americanism’: the US writers who imagined a fascist future

From Sinclair Lewis and Philip Roth to Donald Trump’s favourite film, Citizen Kane, US culture has long told stories about homegrown authoritarianism. What can we learn from them? “To have enslaved America with this hocus-pocus! To have captured the mind of the world’s greatest nation without uttering a single word of truth! Oh, the pleasure we must be affording the most malevolent man on earth!” These words come near the end of Philip Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America, but for some they could have been written yesterday. The election of Donald J Trump as president has been called “unimaginable”, but the truth is many people did imagine the forces that have brought him to power, or versions of them; we just stopped listening to them. In 1944, an article called “American Fascism” appeared in the New York Times, written by then vice president Henry Wallace. “A ...

1984: West End’s hit adaptation set for Broadway, Australian cast announced

Described as ‘horribly relevant’ by its directors, the global tour of the acclaimed production follows a surge in sales for Orwell’s seminal novel As George Orwell’s seminal book 1984 enjoys a surge in sales following Donald Trump’s ascendency, the critically acclaimed West End adaptation is set to tour the globe – with Tom Conroy picked to play the lead role in Australia from May, and the production making its debut on Broadway in June. Published in 1949, the dystopic novel is set in a world of perpetual war and twisted truth, its citizens manipulated by the all-seeing Big Brother. Protagonist Winston Smith works at the euphemistically named Ministry of Truth, rewriting newspaper articles to support the party line – and starts keeping a diary in defiance of it. Continue reading...

Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 surge after Kellyanne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’

Comments made by Donald Trump’s adviser have been compared to the classic dystopian novel, pushing it to become the sixth best-selling book on Amazon Related: Donald Trump's team defends 'alternative facts' after widespread protests Sales of George Orwell’s dystopian drama 1984 have skyrocketed after reality TV star turned president Donald Trump’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, used the phrase “alternative facts” in a new interview. Continue reading...

Five Books About Surviving Surveillance

1984-john-hurt Having grown up during the Cold War, I was introduced in high school to all the classic twentieth century dystopian novels (Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451). We were taught that the surveillance state was the norm of our totalitarian enemies, or a threat to our own future if we let down our guard. Coming of age during the rebellious Sixties and entering college at the explosive end of the decade, I became politically engaged and concerned about the many ways that we all face manipulation, surveillance, and control—whether by governmental agencies (the bugaboos of the time were the FBI and CIA) or through advertising, political propaganda, and mass media. I have been a science fiction fan for as long as I could read, and at the dawn of the computer era, when the room-filling mainframe predominated, the genre worried about HAL and Colossus, machines that sleeplessly watched ...

Measure for measure: a history of booze in books

From Brideshead Revisited to James Bond, alcohol plays a key role in fiction. Henry Jeffreys distils the best sozzled scenes – and the worst hangovers So closely are some of the giants of 20th-century literature associated with alcohol that modern readers might be forgiven for thinking a serious booze habit was once the equivalent of a degree in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. It’s not surprising that alcohol permeates the work of writers such as Kingsley Amis, Ernest Hemingway and Dorothy Parker. They were writing about what they knew. In many of the short stories in Shaken and Stirred: Intoxicating Stories (Everyman Pocket Classics), a drunken incident is the motor of the narrative. For example in Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure” a lovestruck teenager gets paralytic while babysitting and becomes an outcast at school, “but there was a positive, a splendidly unexpected, result of ...