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Ever since I read Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty Four', I had admired George Orwell's ability to think honestly and clearly. He was able to see the monumental crimes of Stalinism and by extension, Leninism, which basically stands for Communism as it is believed and practised. This was in spite of him being a socialist at heart. Also, Orwell did produce strong reactions from both the Right and the Left. So, I was naturally intrigued when I saw Christopher Hitchens' book on Orwell.
This book deals with all the important questions relating to Orwell today. The Right likes to claim him on behalf of his strong critique of Stalinism as if Orwell supported all their deep desires to severely punish left leaning people in their societies. Hitchens shows how Orwell stood by the rights of the working classes and the poor while castigating Stalinism. In the same way, the 'real Left' likes to demonize him as an agent of the bourgeoisie and portray him as an 'informer'. Hitchens again shows how Orwell was a genuine socialist at heart but knew that the centralized state like the USSR was not the way to get there. Hitchens paints a balanced picture of the man and the idealist without mopping over issues of relevance today. For example, Orwell was homophobic in some ways and Hitchens tries to investigate its possible causes. Orwell also did not have much time for feminists and in fact, for women.
Hitchens deals at length with 'The List', which has been used to taint Orwell with the charge that he informed on his left-wing friends to the British government and betrayed them. This is something many Leftists believe about Orwell. Hitchens argues strongly that Orwell did not 'inform' and that the argument does not hold water. But it was a fact that a certain 'list' existed in Orwell's handwriting and it was given to an influential friend of his. Looking at the overall picture that emerges of Orwell from the book, it is hard to accept that Orwell would have been an 'informer'.
The book is passionately argued and is not all that easy reading, though it is fairly concise. One would have to have sufficient interest in George Orwell in order to enjoy the book.