Are part of the 99 key sentences that we learn from our earliest youth and that we repeat for the rest of our lives’*** This in Abistan the régime invented by Boualem Sansal in his Orwellian tale of Islamic dictatorship from his latest book 2084:The end of the world, Rewarded as joint winner of the ‘Grand Prix du Roman’ by the Académie Française.
This book illustrates for the reader the Religious dictatorship in Abistan who’s founding date far in a past that no one can remember is 2084, a date with no meaning other than the beginning for the people. The people who are kept in ignorance by a state which rewrites history regularly as it wishes. The human size view of this dictatorship is given to us through Ati. In Abistan where the only infrastructures remaining come from the period before the dictatorship, no one moves or travels except for the pilgrimages, where each Abistani dreams of dying as a martyr on the way, but first you must be chosen by the state:
‘The passion within the people for pilgrimages was encouraged by continual campaigns mixing advertisements, sermons, fairs, competitions and various other sorts of manipulation at the order of the very powerful minister for pilgrimages and sacrifices’***
‘What better way than through hope and wonder to tie the people to their beliefs, because he who believes knows fear and he who knows fear believes blindly’***
Ati, however was not chosen for the pilgrimage but evacuated to the mountains to die or as in Ati’s case to recover from tuberculosis. In so doing Ati becomes someone rare in Abistan, someone who has traveled, high into the mountains, albeit within Abistan. Whilst in the sanatorium , he discovers that there is an inscription in a language that no one can read carved in the rock above the monumental doorway in which figures the number 1984 which pre-dates official history. He also discovers that there is a border:
‘The existence of a border was overwhelming, the world is therefore divided? Divisible? Humanity is multiple? Since when? Since forever of cours!’***
In the mountains Ati discovers that there are soldiers who fight to protect the border, but those that fought and survived the massacres had crossed the border and thus knew:
‘The soldiers who ….. had made it back were subject to the punishment reserved for traitors and heathens, they wound up in the stadium the day of worship, executed to the cheers of the public after having been paraded through the town. To close an affair of state requires the disappearance of the witnesses.***
At the Sanatorium, Ati meets a state archaeologist who confers to him that they have found a site which calls into question the very existence of the religious dictatorship.
Returning to the Capital Qodsabad Ati with the slow burning fuse of freedom lit will try to discover the truth of history and the régime, but all may not be as it seems and It is difficult in a dictatorship to be more than a pawn.
This book is part of my French lit targets for 2016. A huge amount of work has gone into this novel warning us about the dangers of obscurantism and as with Orwell giving us through an imagined novel a vision of dictatorship, in this instance religious.
This is a rich book in ideas and I have touched on few in this post, however, how far would you need to extrapolate fundamentalism, in this case Muslim, to match this vision. That is the question!
First published in French as 2084:la fin du monde by Gallimard in 2015
*** My translation