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May 2, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Fifth Book Review

The most recent book I read in the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge 2016 falls under the category of a banned book. Brave New World was not well received when it was first published in 1932 by Aldous Huxley. It raised eyebrows and caused much angst. Even today, the book is controversial. In 2010 it made it to number 3 on the list of the top 10 banned books in the US due to its insensitivity, offensive language, sexually explicit material, and racism.


Brave New World is the story of the future, a very dark future, a future I wouldn't wish on anyone. It's a story in which the family as we know it does not exist. Babies are genetically engineered, cloned with great proficiency, grown in test tubes, and once "decanted" (born) they are "nurtured" in factories where they undergo conditioning. Everyone has a place in society, a caste system of sorts, where people are bred for certain positions and there's no such thing as moving up the ladder.

"Mother" is an obscene word. Promiscuity is the rule and considered morally acceptable while abstinence is virtually against the law and punishable. "Everyone belongs to everyone else." There is no monogamy, no religion, no reliance on God or any aspect of the supernatural.

Society is stable. There is no war. There is no discontent. But if something does happen to upset you there is always soma, the drug guaranteed to take you on a holiday from your problems.

Most of society (the story takes place primarily in London) is humming along quite happily, with everyone smiling all day long, relying on soma to keep the smile going. Thinking and reading, at least thinking and reading Big Ideas does not happen. All great books have been banned. Nobody has read the Bible or Shakespeare or classic literature or poetry or history.

In addition to the "civilization" of this brave new world there is in North America a reservation of "savages," 560,000 km divided into four distinct Sub-Reservations each surrounded by high tension fences where Native Americans and others live. This is a place where the "ancient" dead languages are spoken, among them Native American dialects as well as Spanish. The "savages" live simply as the ancients did. There are mothers and fathers and children in families, sickness, old age, worries, and religions that mix Christianity with superstitious rituals. And sometimes people from civilization go to visit the reservation to observe life as it used to be.

It is at the reservation that we first meet a young man named John, who although he had an English mother and was born in the traditional way (the shame and scandal of it!), all he has ever known is life on the reservation. What will he think of civilization if he gets the opportunity to go to England? I don't want to give everything away so perhaps I'd better stop now.

I found the book difficult to put down. It was haunting and disturbing. Very disturbing. I wanted to read the book quickly but forced myself to slow down. This book needed time, time to think, time to ponder and consider.

Aldous Huxley 1894-1963
So who was Aldous Huxley? And what motivated him to write this book? I would like to read a biography of him. He, unlike the characters in his book was a thinker. His imagination was certainly not lacking.

I encourage you to pick up the book for yourself. It is thought provoking to say the least. That said, this is not a happy book, not a book you will read and smile through. The characters in it are to be pitied.

Huxley's brave new world is chilling indeed.

2 comments:

  1. Great review! I found Brave New World to be subtly disturbing, unlike 1984 which is nightmarish from the start. And I agree, it reads very fast and easily. Most of all, I can see how society could move towards that sort of hedonistic dystopia if we are not careful.

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  2. Thanks Ruthiella! It is not hard to find bits and pieces of Brave New World alive and well today. The very thought is disturbing. I reassure myself that the Brave New World portrayed in the book could never happen simply because as living, breathing human beings we need others too much. The idea that "everyone belongs to everyone else" just would not, could not happen! At least that's what I think...hopefully I'm right!

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