Children in Dystopia


Dystopian fiction is a genre I avoid. So is science fiction. However I found myself allured to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, despite its classification as science fiction, and unwitting of its classification as dystopian literature. Why did I read so far outside my usual preferences? Because (perhaps because the classroom was such an exotic world to my homeschooled childhood) I often have a strong pull toward school stories. A book about a unusual school for gifted children proved irresistible.

Never Let Me Go is charged with the pleasure of unwrapping surprise after surprise. True, there is a gradual unveiling of a dimly understood horror. But there is also the miraculous development of friendship and love, of complex and beautiful characters. The true texture of childhood, with its concomitant menace and tensions, is given here: the piecing together of clues about the adult world, sometimes very wildly; the significance of “games” as apparatus to interpret the universe, to reconcile it with the interior world where we know what *ought* to be.

Ishiguro’s novel, as few do, meshed with my own thought processes to the extent that I dreamed about the book regularly during the period in which I was reading it. However, the other recent read that affected me that way was also oddly a dystopian school story, the kid lit book The Mysterious Benedict Society. It has some striking similarities to Never Let Me Go, being about gifted children, in a “privileged” school setting, working together to unmask the real motives of the adult authority figures they deal with.


As a high school age reader, I absorbed a lot of Sozhenitsyn’s writings. These too are dystopian but they are dystopian literature of witness. Like the two books already mentioned, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich took over my dreams during the week I read it. It lingered in my mind a long time afterward, as if the prison camp had been a personal memory.


School is for many children a dystopian experience: a totalitarian system, a social concrete jungle, an indoctrination camp. Within and outside this world, the growing soul struggles for its nourishment. Joseph Brodsky, who grew up in Soviet Russia, relates the experience of childhood behind the Iron Curtain to the lives of school children everywhere in the closing words of his essay “Less Than One.” On his way to school, “if he had two extra minutes,” the little boy would pause “slide down on the ice and take twenty or thirty steps to the middle. All this time he would be thinking about what the fish were doing under such heavy ice.” Then he runs the rest of the way to school and gets settled in his seat. “It is a big room with three rows of desks, a portrait of the Leader on the wall behind the teacher’s chair, a map with two hemispheres of which only one is legal. The little boy takes his seat, opens his briefcase, puts his pen and notebook on the desk, lifts his face, and prepares himself to hear drivel.”

It is those two extra minutes the authorities have disregarded that will be their downfall. It is that fleeting experience of what is real that exposes their entire project as “drivel.”

-Mrs. Aldertree


A Book Review: The Gulag Archipelago Authorized Abridged Edition

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done! Compiling this book bits and pieces at a time, in secret, never actually seeing his work as a whole. This is the first of its kind! It is not just a history or a catalog of crimes against humanity it is a mediation on the human soul its light and darkness. Solzhenitsyn is a purist and his writing has forever changed my own style. His words his stories will forever be with me. Please read!:

The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn is like no other book. He is right when he claims this to be the first of its kind an experiment in literary investigation.  What did I expect when beginning this book? A list of crimes against humanity, a memoir of suffering and trials, a catalog of pains for posterity’s sake. Yes, this is what I expected, as opened the book: a grim work of non-fiction one should read to be ready, forewarned, prepared – it could happen to you! 

The book is all of that but it is also much more. It is grim, at parts unthinkable but it is not unrelenting. It delves into man’s heart and faces it in all its light and darkness. It condemns evil yet it rejoices in the refining fires of suffering, of prison itself! It reads like a story, but it is also a history, a documentation and tribute to those who suffered under the Soviet Regime, certainly it is an exploration in journalism.

Solzhenitsyn’s writings reveals the power of memory, literature, poetry and Rosary beads made from dried bread.  I will never look at a book in the same way after reading about the joy one  prisoner had when given a book to read. How he proceeded to memorize as much as he could before the treasure was taken away. The prisoner later attributed his sanity to that book! I will l never look at a poem in the same way either. For imprisoned men became imprisoned poets, composing and memorizing their compositions meticulously, methodically line by line for lack of pen and paper. How many poets died there? How many died with unheard beauty metered in memory ? And humbled, I finger my glass rosary beads with greater love and tuck it into my pocket with greater care.

It is incredible what Solzhenitsyn has done, writing this book in secret, never actually seeing his work in one place. Its publication is a literary miracle! Horrors fill these pages, but not despair. Solzhenitsyn shares the stories of thousands of humans in hope that they will live on somehow. And they will. These stories will forever be with me.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.