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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Boualem Sansal

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To purchase 2084

Title: 2084
Author: Boualem Sansal
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 252 pages
Original in: French
Availability: 2084 - US
2084 - UK
2084 - Canada
2084 - Canada (French)
2084 - France
2084 - Deutschland
2084 - Italia
2084 - España
  • The End of the World
  • French title: 2084
  • Translated by Alison Anderson
  • Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française, 2015

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Our Assessment:

B : dystopian vision that tries to do both too much and too little

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 7/5/2016 Sandra Kegel
The Guardian . 10/2/2017 C.Kohda Hazelton
The National B 25/1/2017 R.Yassin-Kassab
The Spectator . 25/3/2017 Brian Martin
TLS . 3/3/2017 Kate Webb
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2016 Adele King

  From the Reviews:
  • "In dieser buchstabengetreuen Übernahme liegt eines der Probleme von 2084, schon allein deshalb, weil Orwell heute als Metapher für nahezu jede kulturpolitische Debatte von der Datenüberwachung bis zur Diktatur herhalten muss. Boualem Sansal buchstabiert seine Parabel indes mit grimmiger Wut eins zu eins durch. Das führt dazu, dass seine Figuren, allen voran Ati, kaum Kontur erhalten. Weil sie von ihrem Erzähler zu sehr dafür in Anspruch genommen werden, bestimmte Haltungen und Meinungen zu transportieren." - Sandra Kegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "2084 is a powerful novel that celebrates resistance." - Claire Kohda Hazelton, The Guardian

  • "Sansal lays out a fantastically detailed dystopia in complex and often elegant prose. (...) Sansalís characters are somewhat two-dimensional, and the plot can seem almost accidental. It is best, therefore, not to read this as a conventional novel but as a mix of satire, fable and polemic. (...) The book is a statement rather than a question; this sometimes gives it the quality of a tract. (...) This is not to deny the novelís obvious strengths. Flawed it may be, but 2084 is always intriguing" - Robin Yassin-Kassab, The National

  • "This is a powerful satire on an Islamist dictatorship. (...) Sansal spares us nothing of the horrors of the autocratic state, its hypocrisy, its deceptions and malicious contrivances." - Brian Martin, The Spectator

  • "Alison Andersonís deft and intelligent translation of 2084 helps to overcome such binary thinking by conveying Sansalís abhorrence of a system that controls peopleís minds, while explaining that the religion was not originally evil but has been corrupted (.....) At the culmination of his moving and cautionary story, Sansal dispenses with the totemic moment of Atiís betrayal in favour of a hurried synopsis." - Kate Webb, Times Literary Supplement

  • "While these adventures are told in some detail, much of the novel is based on explanations of the force of the religion and its power over the inhabitants with little description of characters or events. Ati is not a hero with whom a reader could sympathize. Sansal bases the religion of Abistan on a parody of Muslim doctrine." - Adele King, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       2084 is a novel of the future, after a global war, the 'Great Holy War' that saw the deaths of hundreds of millions, and after the use of nuclear weapons. The year 2084 does appear to mark, as the subtitle has it, 'the end of the world' -- but it is a point long since passed. The novel is not set in 2084, but rather 2084 marks the breaking point at which the old world was lost and this new one -- Abistan -- arose: "2084 was a founding date for the country, even if no one knew what it referred to". Essentially a theocracy, Abistan is controlled by 'the Apparatus' and all life based entirely on the teachings of prophet-founder Abi, as recorded also in the holy book of his teachings, the Gkabul. Life is fairly basic, though there are, for example, cars and planes (though traveling with these is far out of reach of the common man).
       Abistan is a place without history. There is no 'before' to compare to the present -- and so also no alternative; life is not to be imagined being possible any other way than how things are in Abistan. There is not much present, either, in this totalitarian state where authoritarian control is near-complete and personal freedoms severely curtailed. And the system is everything, as even: "In Abistan the only economy was religious".
       There is no freedom of movement, and very little sanctioned movement. Pilgrimages are allowed, but they are strictly controlled. The main figure of the novel, Ati, is the rare lowly citizen who comes to see more of the country, sent to a sanatorium to cure his tuberculosis. Amazingly, he survives the disease and is eventually discharged and sent back home -- where he gets a better apartment and job after the ordeal he has endured.
       At his new job Ati befriends Koa. Both are particularly interested in:

the mystery of abilang, the sacred tongue, that was born with the Holy Book of Abi and had become the omnipotent and exclusive national language. They dreamt of penetrating the mystery, for they were convinced it was the key to a revolutionary understanding of life.
       Their discussions and research make them increasingly curious. Everything in Abistan is shrouded in mystery -- it is a society practically built on obfuscation -- and they try to lift some of the shrouds. Innocently, at first, out of genuine, even well-meaning curiosity:
     And yet at no time did the two friends have any subversive thoughts, let alone heretical ones; they simply wanted to know what sort of world they were living in -- not to fight it, no one was up to that, man or god -- but to endure it in full knowledge of the facts, and to visit it, if possible.
       They venture to other neighborhoods -- a dangerous undertaking -- and eventually even head to the walled-in sacred capital, the City of God, "an architectural ensemble that defied the imagination, labyrinthine and chaotic to a fault". Rather too open about what (and who) they are seeking, they have to go into hiding but find protectors; foolishly wandering out on their own, they are separated and only Ati is whisked off to yet the next safe house, where more about Abistan is revealed to him.
       Ati's journeys, and what he learns along the way, make up what plot there is to 2084. At first a passive observer, he takes an increasingly active role in trying to understand what is happening around him. Both at the start and the conclusion, he is more or less at the mercy of others, as they largely control where he can go and what he is exposed to. There is some suspense, both about what there might be to Abistan and on a more personal level, as Ati and Koa's quest becomes one filled with some danger and subterfuge (which they aren't that good at).
       Ati isn't much of a character: like Abistan, he has little history (and thus also barely any personality) and even he doesn't know his own age -- "thirty-two, or thirty-five, he wasn't really sure". He is a vehicle that leads through the story, allowing Sansal to reveal more and more about Abistan and the personality-cult/religion it is based on.
       Unsurprisingly, there are strong echoes of George Orwell's 1984 throughout -- right down to the overt borrowings: abilang, for example: "was inspired by Newspeak, from Angsoc". And the similarities between the cult of Abi and Islam, and, for example, the Gkabul and the Koran are also made clear, with the occasional exaggerations (there are almost twice as many daily prayers, for example) -- and hints that the one, in fact, is based on the other (i.e. that the Gkabul already existed before Abi, presumably as the Koran) and was indeed the cause of the downfall of the earlier, "far superior" civilization that was wiped out in the war. The inevitable conclusion is that:
Abistan's great misfortune was the Gkabul; in response to the intrinsic violence of the void, it offered humanity submission to sanctified ignorance, and by pushing servitude to self-negation, to pure and simple self-destruction, it denied the possibility of rebellion as a means of inventing a world on a human scale -- which, at the very least, might preserve humanity from the ambient madness. Religion truly is the remedy that kills.
       2084 sits uneasily between direct critique -- specifically of the blindness caused by religious over-devotion and the abuse of (pseudo-)religion for political power -- and more fanciful dystopian fiction. Sansal wants to have his Islamic cake and eat it too -- though in fact most any totalitarian system, regardless of what it is based on, could easily fit the Abistani bill: the main causes, and its great weaknesses (including a disregard of history and claim to absolute truth) are shared by essentially all totalitarian systems (and dystopias). Sansal does a reasonably good job of describing this society, and there is some fine invention and description, but the presentation sputters some, especially as there's simply not enough to Ati to lead readers through this world, and his perspective is ultimately too limited (even as he is informed about the more interesting aspects and possibilities of actual history, in Abistan and before it, by others).
       In this dime-a-dozen age of dystopia-stories -- and realities across the world that aren't much better -- 2084 doesn't stand out nearly enough, in any way bar the Islamic connection -- and even that is covered in a middling way, Sansal's oblique attack reducing its possible impacts.
       2084 is a solid novel, but can't quite live up to its (too) obvious ambitions.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 January 2017

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2084: Reviews: Other books by Boualem Sansal under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-writing Algerian author Boualem Sansal was born in 1949.

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