George Orwell Library shines a light in Russia

Published October 30, 2023
Lawyer Anastasia Rudenko talks to a reporter in front of the library named after English novelist George Orwell.—AFP
Lawyer Anastasia Rudenko talks to a reporter in front of the library named after English novelist George Orwell.—AFP

IVANOVO: The librarian scans the shelves and quickly picks out a few works — Orwell, Sorokin, Dostoevsky — the authors she thinks can best help cast some light in a dark time for Russia.

The scene is in Ivanovo, an industrial city five hours’ drive from Moscow, where the “George Orwell Library” was set up last year in an effort to counter growing propaganda and censorship.

The simple library housed in the ground floor of a run-down building has a computer, a few hundred books and a lingering smell of the perfume used by the librarian, Alexandra Karaseva. “Books help to see what is human, even in an enemy, and reject any form of dehumanisation,” the 67-year-old said as she handles the tomes.

The library was opened by Dmitry Silin, a local businessman and opponent of the conflict in Ukraine who has since fled Russia fearing he could be imprisoned for his outspoken views.

Karaseva showed off the collection of books about dystopias, the Soviet prison system, the works of contemporary writers critical of the Kremlin as well as some lighter novels to “lift spirits”.

“The more you read about dystopias, the more freedom you have. They show the dangers, as well as ways of avoiding them and of resisting,” Karaseva said.

The books are not banned and can therefore be loaned to readers just like a normal library. Among them are works by authors now classified as “foreign agents” under Russian law which in bookshops have to be sold with their covers hidden.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2023

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