The Corner

Orwell and Others

In our latest Need to Know podcast, Mona Charen asked me to say a little about the Oslo Freedom Forum. I mentioned a young woman I am writing about for the next National Review. She is Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, or escapee. She said that, even when she was in a free country — South Korea — she was not quite free of the Kim dictatorship. To a degree, it still ruled her mind.

Then, one day, she read Animal Farm. And everything came clear. She was rid of the brainwashing. She said she stayed up all night crying, at the relief. She also said that she gets goosebumps thinking about it, even today.

Later, she read 1984, Orwell’s magnum opus. She thought that this book was about North Korea, specifically. (Same with Animal Farm.) Talking with me about 1984, she said, “A lot of people think it’s just a novel, just fiction, but it tells the truth. It is the real story.” Yeonmi is amazed at Orwell’s capacity to understand. “He’s a genius.”

I received a note from a listener to the podcast:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

I used to teach Animal Farm in a freshman composition class. One of my students was a young woman from China who had lived through the Cultural Revolution. She came up to me after class one night and said, “Napoleon is Chairman Mao.” I still get chills when I think of this.

I would like to quote from something I wrote after the 2012 presidential election. I had been talking with David Pryce-Jones about defeat, defeatism, the flow of the world, fighting back, “making a difference” — all of that stuff.

[DP-J] talked about the little magazines that sprouted after the war, when Communism was making strides in the democratic world. These were humane, anti-Communist magazines: Encounter in Britain; Preuves in France; Der Monat in West Germany; Quadrant down in Australia. They made a difference. They were eventually damned as CIA creations, but they still made a difference — they told the truth.

And “think of George Orwell,” said David. Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but he used the last of his strength to write 1984. That made a difference. It struck a blow, a blow from which Communism and the Left reeled for a long time.

I’ve thrown some links at you. Let me throw a few more. My “Oslo Journal” begins today, here. And, for those oddballs who like music criticism, I have three reviews for you: here, here, and here. They were published on The New Criterion’s blog, Armavirumque.

The first review is of a recital by the South African soprano Pretty Yende. The second is a Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera. And the third is of a concert by the New York Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor, and Jeremy Denk, piano soloist.

That last review is titled “Stravinsky vs. Hearing Aid.” Stravinsky won, but it was close . . .