L: A Novel History by Jillian Becker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book Info: Genre: Alternate History
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: I think everyone should read this. While I think those who favor socialism and communism will probably find the blatantly anti-communist overstory to be upsetting, I still think they should read it, and try to keep an open mind. There is more to this story that is on the surface.
Trigger Warnings: rape of women and children, violence, attempted murder, murder, torture, cannibalism, looting
Animal Abuse: multiple animals killed in “art” presentations, killing and eating of a small boy's dog
My Thoughts: Wow, this has to be one of the strangest things I've ever read. It's fiction, written like a history book, purportedly written in 2023 about events that took place from the 1960s into the early 1990s about a man who thirsted for power and destruction. If read with only a surface understanding, it appears to be vehemently anti-socialist and pro-capitalist, but a deeper understanding is needed to really understand that is being explored in this book. It is not about Left vs. Right, but about one man's desire to see the world burn around him, and how he used Leftist ideology and the desire of people to a) do right and b) be taken care of so as to be absolved of responsibilities to twist an entire country into his fist. This quote more-or-less encapsulates the idea behind the story.
“When his [L's] messengers moved among the bored and aimless young, telling them that they had deep cause for resentment; that they were discriminated against and oppressed; that they had the right to all manner of good things that the state had long promised and had not yet given them enough of to make them happy—no one knowing better than he that the expectations the welfare state had aroused could never be met—he was preparing the way for disaster: and that was what he expected and passionately desired.”
The thing is, so many of the people that followed him didn't even understand that socialism and communism were really about. One anecdote really brought that home to me. The characters are visiting a commune in which 12 people are living. One woman complains she cannot even leave milk for her baby in the refrigerator because someone else will just take it. Several of the people who live there proudly proclaim themselves to be Workers, but refuse to actually work. “It's not that there aren't jobs to be had, but they 'refuse to prop up the system by becoming wage-slaves'.” Instead, they seem to feel they should be supported by the commune without actually providing anything in return. This is completely antithetical to what a commune is actually about. These people would have a rude awakening if they were in a truly communist group, wherein if one wants to eat, one needs to work. The idea is not to have everything handed to you, but that everyone shares in everything. The ideals behind communism are good; it's just that people are greedy on an individual basis and think they should be exempt from actually following those ideals themselves, and communism will not work unless every single person believes in those ideals and lives them. That why it won't work, especially in our modern society where everyone wants the benefits but doesn't want to actually have to do anything to receive them. It comes down so much to the lack of personal responsibility that is becoming a curse upon our society, where everything is always the “fault” of someone else, and no fault is ever accepted. But I'm rambling way off topic.
To me, the fact that so many thoughts and ideas are rolling around in my head after reading this is a very good sign. I might not have agreed with everything, and there were sections of this book that absolutely infuriated me, but it made me think, and to me, that is a sign of a very successful book. I'm telling you, so many people in this book come through as completely bughouse nuts. For example, anyone who disagreed with the Party line was called a fascist. They were militantly against racism, but hated Jews. They declared that Zionists were fascists, and therefore Jews were Nazis.... How messed up is that? An example of some of the double-speak so prevalent:
“He understood the good to be what was natural, because nature was innocent; and innocence was wild, and wild innocent nature was cruel; so cruelty was good.”
“But he held that only the man who understood profoundly and completely that murder was absolutely wrong could commit the murder that would be supremely good; the entirely—and tragically—moral murder. Such a one is the terrorist. He is a heroic martyr because he murders for the Communist Party, he does so with awesome courage, knowing full well that he himself must thereby suffer. There is no greater love than to lay down the life of a fellow man.”
“It is of no importance whether they are true or not. What matters is that they are socially and morally unacceptable.”
I wanted to say that no one would actually think this way, that no one would fall for the sorts of double-speak, manipulations, lies and propaganda that the people in this book fell for, but then I looked around, thought about some of the things I've seen on the news, read in magazines and newspapers, and heard people discussing in various places, and realized this is all-too-plausible. Frighteningly so. And it makes me despair for the world. People who know me well know I'm not an extremist one way or another politically—socially I tend to be Left and legally more Right—but I know one thing I can state unequivocally... When it comes to government, less is more. And modern government is growing too big. Legislating the sorts of personal decisions that should not be legislated is, as one character puts it in this book, doing nothing but creating wind. You can't force people to like one another with laws, and trying to will just make the problem worse. I've noted a distressing tendency lately for people to want the government to “do something” about issues in which the government should have absolutely no say, and the fact that enough people howl for it gives the government way too much power and control over our everyday life. I hope many people will read this, realize that things are going too far, and start to back off on insisting that the government “take care of us” and start taking care of themselves. Personal responsibilities need to go back to being personal. And again I'm rambling... sorry!
The formatting left a lot to be desired. There were frequently sentences and fragments of sentences that were randomly swapped around and it made entire paragraphs sometimes very difficult to parse; since the book was already sometimes rather difficult to read, it made some sections practically unreadable. This is really the only issue I had with this book, and it likely a result of the fact that it is a galley. I hope that there will not be issues of this sort in the final edition. I should also point out that the edition I had was missing most of the appendices, and all of the illustrations and footnotes, so there is more to this book than I was able to access in this galley.
The descriptions of the Direct Art movement in Vienna in the late 1960s and early 1970s sickened me, and I have never been so ashamed of being Austrian when I think about the sort of people who would actively support this sort of sick thing—the torture and murder of animals, the rape of young boys, the violence against their own audience—and demand it be allowed to continue in the name of “art”. Not only that, but that most of these “artists” were supported with public grants—money from taxpayers.
Rather than making this already too long review any longer, I'll stop rambling now and say that I think most people should take the time to read this book and really think about it. Those who favor communism or socialism might find this book distasteful on the surface, as it paints Left ideologies in a very negative light. However, I think the meaning is deeper than that; I think this book is more about how one man's feeling of alienation and desire for power led to him utilizing the well-meaning ideologies of a certain segment of the population for his own purposes. Read it with an open mind, and really think about it.
Disclosure: I received an e-galley from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Synopsis: A charismatic sociopath orchestrates a reign of tyranny in England during the 1980s. L: A Novel History documents how distinguished political theorist, Louis Zander, or "L", uses art, artifice and ideology to ennkchant and captivate millions of English citizens. He then ups the stakes and slowly, with heart-pounding inevitability, turns his followers from democracy-loving citizens into willing participants in his collectivist dictatorship. This skillfully composed and well-researched novel could be a fictionalization of the Cloward-Piven strategy or Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Ms. Becker has written a page turner that unveils the step-by-step process by which one evil man seduces, perverts and then destroys an entire nation. "L" could be Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or even the next Prime Minister or President. Read this book at your peril. In this age of charismatic leaders, the vulnerability of our society is all too real.
Ms. Becker was inspired to write this novel while researching her best selling, non-fiction work, Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
View all my reviews