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When Life Imitates Art: Trump’s Presidency and the Newfound Popularity of Dystopian Fiction



Dystopian fictions from half a century ago, such as English author George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, have lately come back under the spotlight and their sales have increased considerably since the U.S. President Donald Trump took office. In Japan, America no kabe (America’s Wall) by sci-fi writer Sakyo Komatsu, is attracting attention.


 1984 is a futuristic novel that depicts a totalitarian society where the public is manipulated through surveillance and rewriting of the truth by the Party leader called “Big Brother.” It was published in 1949 and has been a widely-read classic ever since but it started drawing attention again after the US presidential inauguration on January 20. When media reported that more people attended Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony than Trump’s, the White House fought back saying that it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” When challenged, he stood his ground, saying that he simply told “another side of the truth.” With attitudes like this evoking the world of 1984, the book became a best seller on Amazon in the United States.


Even in Japan, the new translation of 1984 by Kazuhisa Takahashi (Hayakawa Epi Bunko) sold rapidly. Hayakawa Publishing reported that they printed 40,000 more copies of the new edition in February alone, totaling 2.2 million copies. “Unusually strong sales for a translation of a classic novel,” remarked the surprised editor Akira Yamaguchi.


The new translation of Brave New World, published this January, is increasing its sales as well as Orwell’s Animal Farm. Kadokawa Bunko’s paperback version of Animal Farm has received an increasing number of orders from bookstores with the number doubling in February compared to the previous month. Animal Farm, published 45 years ago, is an allegorical novel where the farm animals aspire and achieve to live free from their human master’s control, only to end up having their leaders – the pigs – becoming the dictators of their new so-called ideal society. Brave New World (published 32 years ago) depicts an ultimate controlled society where humans are selected and then divided into class when they are still human embryos, to achieve greater happiness for the society. Both of these novels are masterpieces of the dystopian genre.


Trump has been promoting extreme policies such as building a wall along the Mexican border or restricting the entry of refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries. Yamaguchi suspects that “maybe it is the hint of dictatorship in Trump’s attitude that reminds us of these novels.”


Meanwhile, Sakyo Komatsu’s short novel America’s Wall, published 40 years ago, has become an internet sensation with people referring to it as “science fiction becoming reality.”  In the story, a president is elected upholding a slogan “Shining America” and during his presidency a wall suddenly appears, cutting off all communications from the outside world. It was re-released as e-book by Bungeishunju in February, with the comment that “Komatsu is a great sci-fi novelist but at the same time, he is also an excellent historian of civilization. Komatsu’s sharp insights will help us understand about what is happening in the United States right now.”


Critics like Atsushi Sasaki point out that “Trump’s existence itself is a caricature. Things we never thought of happening are really happening…Reality has surpassed fiction. Maybe people are reading dystopian novels as a way to find clues to understand the present.”



Satoko Yuhara is a staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun


(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)


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