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If anyone can take brooding existentialism to a new level of divisiveness, Algerian author Boualem Sansal, with his novel “2084: The End of the World,” proves up to the task. A dark, droning fantasy, “2084” depicts a future where state-sponsored ignorance and mindless faith have created a zombie-like society run by a clergy of autocrats. In between idiosyncratic snippets of pseudo-wisdom, a moral of sorts unfolds; a moral that attaches itself to a popular narrative, but one that lends itself to predictability.
The story picks up as the main character Ati leaves a sanatorium. The author uses Ati and his initial isolation as an echo chamber to reflect the downtrodden state of society in Abistan, a nation which has extinguished individual thought, while brutally enforcing social conformity and devotion to a strict religious protocol. Parallels to the Western ideal of Islamo-facism prove rather obvious. “Yolah” with Allah and “Abi” as Yolah’s prophet require little imagination to identify. The novel summons references to Quran-like Holy Scriptures, and even the mystical jin to lend depth to the subtext.
Amidst the mind control and state propaganda, Ati feels conflicted. His time in isolation has made him wonder about the way of things in Abistan; about the manipulation of thought, and the lack of personal freedom. A caravan picks up Ati, returning him to his hometown of Qodsabad. En route, he encounters Nas, a civil servant from the Ministry of Holy Books and Memories. Nas tells of a magical city named Kiiba, a place with a pyramid that shines like the rising sun. Kiiba contains relics and artifacts that defy the imagination, evidence that nations and cultures actually existed before Abistan and the Holy War against the Chitan.
After returning to Qodsabad, Ati finds himself obsessed with Nas’ story. He wonders about Democ, which Nas also described, and what it would feel like to rule one’s destiny and possess free thought. Back at work, he meets Koa, a colleague who shares his curiosity about a personal purpose, and also his skepticism about the Holy Message. Ati and Koa realize they must find the truth and seek out Kiiba.
In Kiiba, they locate Nas and meet a man named Toz who studies ancient artifacts. Toz has discovered evidence of a time before Abistan, a foreign concept to Ati and Koa. As it turns out, Toz also serves as the curator of an ancient museum: a museum which goes by the name of (drum roll, please . . .) the ‘Louvres.’
So, now we can see the direction of the narrative, of course; Kiiba, really just a future Paris, already teems with nasty infidels, with their usual abuse of women, public beatings, child rape and so on. Oh, the horror.
The story itself proves less than compelling, and the stereotypical references to “Radical Islam” only add a ho-hum predictability to the plot. Reeking of author intrusion, it detracts from the overall oppressive Big Brother message which, as Orwell showed in “1984,” ordinarily proves interesting.
Sansal’s unique style of writing does serve the book well. As good fiction evolves, especially in the novel form, it usually becomes increasingly dialogue driven. “2084,” however, proves situational and scene driven, with very little dialogue. Almost story-narrated in the tradition of a moral or a fable, with detailed descriptions of scenes interspersed with philosophical ruminations, this style proves hard to pull off. Still, the author’s clever use of language and mix of phrasing keeps the interest level going for longer than expected. Overall, however, “2084” relies too much on innuendo and convoluted metaphors to make its point, and truly lacks the development needed to place it anywhere near its namesake, “1984.” Creative, sort of. Inspiring, no.
2084: The End of the World
By Boualem Sansal
Europa Editions, 2017
This review appeared in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 73, 2017.
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