For Online E-newspaper
The East African : Feb 4rth 2017
IV MAGAZINE BOOKS MORAL CLARITY US readers seek solace in dystopian novels Sales have risen drastically for George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, which shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list last week. Other novels that today’s readers may not have picked up since high school but have landed on the list are Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World, a futuristic dystopian story set in England in 2540; and Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, a satire about a bellicose presidential candidate who runs on a populist platform in the United States but turns out to be a fascist demagogue. The sudden boom in popularity for classic dystopian novels, which began to pick up just after the election, seems to reflect an organic response from readers who are wary of the authoritarian overtones of some of US President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Interest in 1984 surged, after a series of comments from Trump, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and his adviser Kellyanne Conway, in which they disputed the news media’s portrayal of the crowd size at his inauguration and of his fractious relationship with US intelligence agencies. Their insistence that facts like photographs of the crowd and his public statements were up for interpretation culminated in an exchange in which Conway said that Spicer had not lied about the crowd size but was offering “alternative facts.” The remarks prompted a cascade of Twitter messages referencing Orwell and 1984. The book began climbing Amazon’s bestseller list, which in turn drove more readers to it. It amounted to a blizzard of free advertising for a 68year-old novel. Readers are turning to dystopian novels for guidance and insight, and also to the comfort of the stories that offer moral clarity at a time when it can be difficult to keep up with the daily news cycle, and the information and disinformation on social media. Since the inauguration, sales of the novel have risen 9,500 per cent, according to Craig Burke, the publicity director for Signet Classics, a paperback imprint at Penguin. The book became the top seller on Barnes & Noble’s website last week, and appeared in the top 10 on the Indie Bestseller list, which tracks sales at independent bookstores in the US. The novel 1984 was an instant hit when it was first published in 1949, and it continues to sell some 400,000 paperback copies in the US annually. The recent demand caught the publisher and some booksellers off guard. Signet, which publishes the mass-market paperback edition of 1984, is reprinting 200,000 more copies of the book, and another 100,000 copies of Animal Farm. “We’ve printed, just this week, about half of what we normally sell in a year,” Burke said. There’s perhaps another reason that readers are returning to 1984 and other dystopian classics during unsettling times. Sometimes, it’s nice to be reminded that things could be worse. - New York Times The EastAfrican FEBRUARY 4ò10,2017 BETTER LIVES: This is a story about hardworking foreigners dreaming of better lives and getting bogged down by the arduous system of getting permanent residency or education scholarships in the US CHASING THE AMERICAN DREAM Kari Mutu, Special Correspondent novel Behold the Dreamers would be an ideal read. It tells of an American experience, one that takes place early in the Obama presidency and at the threshold of the 2008 economic crisis. Jende Jonga hails from the town A of Limbe in Cameroon and now lives in Harlem, New York city. He has just been hired as the chauffeur by Clark Edwards, a senior executive at the financial services company Lehmann Brothers. Jende is elated because he can finally provide a decent life for his wife and son. He will go to any lengths to keep his boss happy, including remaining silent about Clark’s indiscretions. Jende is idealistic and naïve, and although he strikes up an unusual camaraderie with Clark, he is unable to read or react to the signs of coming trouble. Meanwhile, Jende’s private life is on tenterhooks as he awaits a court ruling on his asylum application, five years after arriving in the country. His wife, Neni, is studying to become a pharmacist. Over time, the lives of the two families become intertwined. When Neni gets a temporary job at the Clarks’ holiday home, she discov- s recent executive orders turn the US immigration policy on its head, Imbolo Mbue’s debut ers that all is not well with Cindy, Clark’s wife, a woman from a volatile background tenuously holding onto her sanity and her splintered family. The eldest Clark son has rejected a career in law and the extravagant lifestyle of his parents, opting instead for a sabbatical in India. His younger brother, Mighty, just wants a normal family life, which he gets from interacting with the underprivileged but close-knit family of Jende. The collapse of Lehmann Broth- ers triggers an uncertain future for Jende and the Clarks, testing their marriages, loyalties and personal fortitude. The children in both families become victims of events beyond their control and their parents’ choices. From the two families, we see opposing views on themes of wealth, social status, race and marriage. This is a story about hardwork- ing foreigners dreaming of better lives and getting bogged down by the arduous system of getting permanent residency or education scholarships in the US. We are given vignettes of a charm- ing town in West Africa, happy times in New York, and the series of events that led Jende to seek refuge in America. Neni comes off as the bolder and more interesting personality, hard- Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, is about being an immigrant in the US. Pictures: File ened by the painful experiences of her adolescence. I found myself rooting for her, even when she considers some risky plans to remain in America. Imigration is a well-discussed theme, but Mbue’s novel is unique in its portrayal of the immigrant experience. The style is uncomplicated, the story is appealing, and moves between warmth and despair. I felt the narrative could have been explored a little more deeply, considering the economic mayhem of the period, and that the various storylines were wrapped up a little too neatly. This is the first novel by Mbue, who was born in Limbe, Cameroon, and lives in the US with her family. Behold the Dreamers was on the New York Times Book of the Year list and longlisted for the PEN Open Book Awards in 2016.
Jan 28th 2017
Feb 11th 2017