The animals of Manor Farm have grown tired of Farmer Jones's oppression. I mean, seriously, they're the ones who do all of the work, while he profits off of their labor. Why shouldn't they just cut the ingrate out of the equation and work for themselves, so they get to enjoy the fruits of their labor? A most reasonable plan if there ever was, even if it was devised by pigs (literally). Soon, the crafty porcine militants have overthrown the farmer and seized control of the land, with the full support of their fellow barnyard creatures. The animals create a paradise of equality, named Animal Farm, built upon the concept that "four legs good; two legs bad." Then a nasty power struggle erupts between the two dominant pig politicians, Snowball and Napoleon, which causes the cozy utopia to implode. Will Animal Farm ever be the same?
Animal Farm is one of my absolute favorite books, and it is my favorite satire. Why? Well, for many reasons. I adore Orwell's other classic, 1984, for its stark style and nightmarish dystopia; I love Animal Farm even more because it's just so...funny. Though 1984 is also a critique of communism, Animal Farm takes on the subject with a much different style, one that is wry and outrageous. What's weird is the book isn't full of overtly humorous dialogue or scenes, yet it is still amusing, primarily because Orwell's anthropomorphic, allegorical retelling of the Russian Revolution is so masterfully crafted. Each stage of the Revolution is covered and all of the major personalities and events are here, from Stalin to Trotsky to bloody purges, and all of the inherent irony and absurdity is highlighted by Orwell's barnyard cast. As a history major who hopes to specialize in the Russian Revolution, the whole concept strikes me as hysterical and the fact that Orwell has every little detail accounted for makes my ubernerd heart happy.
Another reason I like this book is its simplicity. Animal Farm is a novella--my copy is only 120 pages long--and can easily be read in an afternoon. Orwell also relies on a style that is engaging and oddly reminiscent of the tone used in children's fables. The characters, though symbolic, are well-crafted, effective, and memorable, especially the sinister Napoleon, the loyal Boxer, and the cantankerous Benjamin.
I don't believe in reading analysis and background history before tackling most books. I find it distracting and have found that kind of material much more interesting after reading the book in question. Animal Farm is a slight exception. As with most satires, you have to understand what Orwell is lampooning to understand the book. If you have a basic knowledge of what happened during the Russian Revolution, you shouldn't have a problem. If not, do a little bit of reading before picking this one up. You don't need to read Riasanovsky's A History of Russia (unless you just want to. In that case, I highly recommend it), but reading a few encyclopedia articles will definitely give you a much better foundation to approach this book. Using a copy with footnotes that explain key passages wouldn't hurt, either.
Animal Farm is a delightfully acerbic examination of a key event in world history. Orwell's masterpiece reminds me of some weird blend of Russian history, Chicken Run, and Gulliver's Travels. If you love high-quality satire, this book is a must-read. (And after you've read it, please tell me if I am insane for free-associating this book with my all-time favorite album--Pink Floyd's Animals. My mind works in strange ways...)
Next Time: Alas, friends, I must return to my usual schedule of just posting on Wednesdays. My next post, which should fall on the last day of this month, will be this month's edition of "The Unblogged Chronicles." I'll have mini-reviews of a modern day classic, a supernatural romance, a tragedy, a couple of more Lehane novels, a brand-new true crime book, a recently published literary thriller, and a children's book that I think should be enshrined in gold...or made mandatory reading. See you Wednesday!