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Reviews of Julia by Sandra Newman

Julia

A Novel

by Sandra Newman

Julia by Sandra Newman X
Julia by Sandra Newman
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  • Published:
    Oct 2023, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

An imaginative, feminist, and brilliantly relevant-to-today retelling of Orwell's 1984, from the point of view of Winston Smith's lover, Julia, by critically acclaimed novelist Sandra Newman.

Julia Worthing is a mechanic, working in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. It's 1984, and Britain (now called Airstrip One) has long been absorbed into the larger trans-Atlantic nation of Oceania. Oceania has been at war for as long as anyone can remember, and is ruled by an ultra-totalitarian Party, whose leader is a quasi-mythical figure called Big Brother. In short, everything about this world is as it is in Orwell's 1984.

All her life, Julia has known only Oceania, and, until she meets Winston Smith, she has never imagined anything else. She is an ideal citizen: cheerfully cynical, always ready with a bribe, piously repeating every political slogan while believing in nothing. She routinely breaks the rules, but also collaborates with the regime when necessary. Everyone likes Julia.

Then one day she finds herself walking toward Winston Smith in a corridor and impulsively slips him a note, setting in motion the devastating, unforgettable events of the classic story. Julia takes us on a surprising journey through Orwell's now-iconic dystopia, with twists that reveal unexpected sides not only to Julia, but to other familiar figures in the 1984 universe. This unique perspective lays bare our own world in haunting and provocative ways, just as the original did almost seventy-five years ago.

Chapter One

It was the man from Records who began it, him all unknowing in his prim, grim way, his above-it-all, oldthink way. He was the one Syme called 'Old Misery'. He wasn't truly new to Julia. Fiction, Records and Research all took second meal at thirteen hundred, so you got to know everyone's face. But up to then, he'd really just been Old Misery, the one who looked like he'd swallowed a fly, who coughed more than he spoke. Comrade Smith was his right name, though 'Comrade' never suited him somehow. Of course, if you felt foolish calling someone 'Comrade', far better not to speak to them at all.

He was slight and very fair. Good-looking – or might have been, if he hadn't always looked so sour. You never saw him smile, unless it was the false smirk of Party piety. Julia made the error of smiling at him once, and got back a look that would sour milk. People said he excelled at his job but couldn't advance because his parents had been unpersons. One supposed that made him bitter...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Overall, what do you think of Julia? (no spoilers in this thread please)
  2. Have you read 1984? How familiar were you with the world of Julia before reading it? What language and concepts had you heard before?
  3. What do you think about Winston and Julia's relationship? Does Winston really love Julia? Does she love him? Do you think love is possible in Oceania?
  4. Place yourself in Oceania. What role do you think you might play? How might you react against, comply with, and cope with the strictures of that society?
  5. Do you see parallels between how we are living now to the world of Orwell's 1984? How about parallels to past world events? If you've read 1984, does Julia introduce different parallels?
  6. Do you think ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Julia.
You can see the full discussion here.


Do you see parallels between how we are living now to the world of Orwell's 1984? How about parallels to past world events? Does "Julia" introduce different parallels to "1984"?
I agree with scottishrose. Blind devotion to any person, regardless of party or politics, is never a good thing. Combine that with the other obvious parallels between that "former leader" and Big Brother's desire to couch anything that... - marks

Do you think surveillance makes us safer? What is the difference between a device like Alexa and the telescreens of 1984? What about closed-circuit television?
This is a hard question to answer as helpful as surveillance can/could be it can be just as horrendous when used for the wrong purposes and often we do know which is. - beverlyj

Do you think the Spies is an effective tool for achieving the Party's ends? In what ways do we indoctrinate our children today? What is the line between indoctrination and teaching values?
Yes, the Spies are an effective tool as it works towards group thinking and separates a child from their parents being the authority figure in their lives. School is a form of indoctrination and especially when teaching is scripted... - beverlyj

Have you read "1984"? How familiar were you with the world of "Julia" before reading it? What language and concepts had you heard before?
I read 1984 as a student and, years later, have used it in classes as a teacher. Like others have already said, I remember being shocked by the book as a teenager, but I looked at it as we did news stories of tragedies from distant places. It was ... - marks

How do you think a person's idea of what is factual becomes distorted? Do you feel there's a way we can avoid being manipulated into false views?
I would basically repeat everything that vivianh said above. As a high school teacher, I value critical thinking above just about everything else (although writing is right up there as well). My personal opinions are irrelevant in class ... - marks

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It's a remarkable take on a classic—one that I personally enjoyed more than the original. And, like 1984, Julia will haunt one's thoughts for a long time after the last page is turned. I highly recommend this eminently readable novel to adult and mature teen audiences who enjoy dystopian fiction...continued

Full Review Members Only (624 words)

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Esquire
Newman compellingly expands Orwell's Oceania through a female lens...Packed with sex, surprises, and a shocking plot twist, Julia is a welcome reminder of just how vital Orwell's text still is—and how much fun can be had in its unexplored corners.

The Economist
Offers a female character with a rich inner life...This Julia cannot help but balance out [Orwell's] blind spots and bring his opus up to date.

The Guardian
A fascinating reflection on totalitarianism as refracted through Orwell's times and our own.

The Telegraph (UK)
A masterpiece…Newman's novel is so ingenious, sensitive to the original, and above all witty that one can imagine Orwell thoroughly enjoying it.

Booklist
Brilliant...fresh...Wonderful.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In a [clever] retelling of 1984, Winston Smith's lover takes center stage…Book clubs could have great fun reading the two together.

Publishers Weekly
Newman delivers a provocative feminist retelling of George Orwell's 1984...Julia's narrative voice is refreshingly fearless as she navigates her way around the Party's nefarious thought policing, and a wicked plot twist spins the original narrative on its ear. Newman adds a fresh coat of menacing gray to Orwell's gloomy world.

Shelf Awareness
Electrically memorable, Julia is as startling and incendiary as 1984 ever was, with dark humor and pathos commenting on perennially timely questions.

Author Blurb Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair
If you thought you knew Julia, as 1984's Manic Pixie Dream Girl, be warned. In Sandra Newman's compelling retelling, Julia has both a conniving agency as well as an escalating and tragic fragmentation. Oceania, Newman insists, has a whole other layer of dystopian horror for its women.

Author Blurb J. Robert Lennon, author of Subdivision and Broken River
This extraordinary novel is like a newly discovered room in your house, in a dream—the illusion is so precise, the execution so masterful, that you think it must have been there all along, just waiting for you to find it. Sandra Newman has succeeded wildly at the impossible task she was given; Julia should surprise and delight not only devotees of Orwell's classic, but fans of Newman's own daring, disquieting, and emotionally affecting oeuvre.

Reader Reviews

Gloria M

Timely Retelling of a Classic
Sandra Newman has written the companion novel to Orwell's "1984".  We never knew we needed this, but in "Julia" so many of our questions are finally answered and we get the feminine perspective on the Party and Big Brother and the authoritarian ...   Read More
Linda O'Donnell

A Julia Retelling
If a retelling of classic novels is in your wheelhouse, Sandra Newman's Julia will not disappoint. It begins simply enough, describing the initial meeting between Julia and Winston Smith, showing her at work in the Fiction department of the Ministry ...   Read More
Hayonith

A feminist rises
Julia is about misogyny of Orwell's writing and fleshing out a woman's perspective. The book is highly readable and retellable, it is innovative and enjoyable.
Gayathri

1984 julia
Wow, '1984 Julia' sounds like a fascinating retelling of Orwell's '1984' from Julia's perspective! I love how it explores the dystopian world of Oceania and delves into Julia's character. It must be interesting to see familiar figures from '1984' ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

George Orwell and 1984

Original US and UK covers of 1984Sandra Newman's novel Julia is based on George Orwell's classic work of fiction 1984, retold from the point of view of the protagonist's lover. Who, though, was George Orwell, and how did 1984 come to be?

Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903, in Bengal, India. His father, Richard, was employed in the India Civil Service as a customs official in the Opium Department. His mother, Ida, moved to England in 1904 with Eric and his older sister, Marjorie, in tow, settling in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. He attended school locally until the age of eight, when he was sent to a private prep school in Sussex. After graduation, he attended Wellington for one term before studying at Eton for the rest of his education. He ...

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