The Book Depository Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin

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The Book Depository Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin
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Description: Swastika Night : Paperback : Feminist Press at The City University of New York : 9780935312560 : 0935312560 : 01 Jan 1993 : Published in 1937, twelve years before Orwell's 1984, Swastika Night projects a totally male-controlled fascist world that has eliminated women as we know them. Women are breeders, kept as cattle, while men in this post-Hitlerian world are embittered automatons, fearful of all feelings, having abolished all history, education, creativity, books, and art. The plot centers on a "misfit" who asks, " How could this have happened. The Book Depository Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin - shop the best deal online on thebookbug.co.uk

 

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Author: T. T. Rogers

Rating: 5

Review: I have long felt that Katharine Burdekin's 'Swastika Night' surpasses the other dystopian science fiction of its time, in what was perhaps the most fertile era for the genre. It is a great book and deserves to stand among the classics. How tragic that this author is not popularly known! I think the final insult for this author, as if to rub salt into an already painful wound, is that it is incredibly difficult to get hold of her more obscure works, either at an affordable price or at all. 'Swastika Night' presents a harsh social world some seven centuries into the future. It is a world dominated not so much by men but by maleness, but the men have superior status and the women are - for the most part - submissive and penned in the most horrendous conditions. The only criticisms I have of this novel are, first, that Burdekin's extrapolation seems a little esoteric and not fully-believable - though her perception is undeniable - and second, I also think that perhaps too much time is spent in static dialogue between two of the leading characters. Nevertheless, the story is well-written and once the central issues are resolved, it moves along at a pace. I really cannot add any more without exhausting the superlatives available (which would be well-deserved). The rest of this review is a more detailed summary of my thoughts on the meaning and messages in the story, and in particular how I think this novel transcends a strictly gender and class critique. I will try not to reveal too much here, but be warned there are some clues as to the plot so don't read the rest of this if you could do without spoilers. Like most, on first reading I took the novel itself as a gender and class critique but having re-read it more recently and reflected on my own experiences, I think the author is also trying to tell us something about knowledge - specifically, political knowledge. Burdekin was not just extrapolating, in a sense - like Orwell some years later in Nineteen Eighty-Four - she was also commenting on the present and society as it is. In our determination not to recognise wrongs and injustices around us, we like to construct spatial and temporal buffers: "that sort of thing happened long ago but wouldn't be allowed here" and "that sort of thing happens over there but not here." These are ways to promote a kind of 'coerced contentment' - which has its own totalitarian quality - and in that sense, I think the characters of 'Swastika Night' are in some ways freer and luckier - even more human - than we are. We may not suffer Hermann's illiteracy or Alfred's frustrations, but for all that, Hermann and Alfred at least have seen down the rabbit hole, have experienced adventure and have lived - which is more than can be said for many in our society, in our time. The Knight, the crucible of the story, holds in his hands the font of all knowledge, literally in every sense. What does he do with it? He hides it, sharing the knowledge only with his issue. Unlike Alfred, he sees knowledge as an unmitigated burden, but unlike Hermann, he also recognises the power of knowledge, its ultimate ability to help a person become himself. What is interesting is that Alfred, too, is ambivalent about knowledge. While recognising its spiritual power, he treats the knowledge that is imparted to him as dynamite, hiding it in a cave as if it is something explosive and dangerous not to be touched except with the greatest care. And haven't we all seen and recognised this tendency even in the Potemkin village of contemporary politics? People really do not like political knowledge - they prefer to be lied to - and they will hoot and wail at any politician, or other public figure, who attempts to impart real knowledge to them. That is the truth. Burdekin, I feel, is incredibly astute in this respect. And here is where I respectfully disagree with Daphne Patai (who wrote the Foreword and has studied Burdekin's work extensively). I think Alfred's reaction, in hiding the book and following the Knight's instructions to the letter, represents not the capitalisation of his rebellion, but rather his own tragic submission to the Knight and to Germany. All political systems need mechanisms of controlled opposition and intellectual suppression. By hiding the knowledge, Alfred himself becomes a 'conservative' - he makes his peace with the system, so to speak - even if he does not know it himself. It is a preface of Orwell's literary device, doublethink. That said, the Knight's own motives were as ambivalent as Alfred's. He takes the aeroplane ride with Alfred and puts his life in Alfred's hands. He is submitting wildly to chance, knowing that without issue he is very much in the lap of the gods anyway. The 'democratising' gesture of handing the book to Alfred - the 'lower class man' - is also a proverbial roll of the dice. There is every chance that knowledge will die out in the hands of Alfred or his issue, but there is also the possibility it won't, that Alfred will pass on the knowledge successfully. What a great novel, but I suspect - sadly - Burdekin's other works will be hard to find other than through a specialist publisher.

 

Author: Amazon Customer

Rating: 2

Review: whilst this book is fascinating in its subject matter, written as it is in 1937, it is poorly written and has a weak story line. however, it is very prescient in its view of German supremacy throughout Europe and the type of society that would have evolved, but many of the ideas are naive and therefore flawed. Overall, I did not really enjoy the book but thought that it raised a number of issues which were useful for our book club.

 

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