Friday, January 8, 2010


I finally finished We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
This did not take me several months and 5 or 6 other books because it was boring. I had to keep stopping and reading other, lighter, fluffier books because it was too intense and creepy.
Written in 1920 / 1921 it is the original dystopia.

Zamyatin was a naval architect who had worked in England during the First World War and also lived in Paris in his later years. His early life was spent in his rural home town of Lebedyan (200 miles south of Moscow). He lived during the end of the Czarist regime, the rise of the bolsheviks and the communists. As a most inconvenient citizen, he was exiled by the czarists for a year and then, later, the communists exiled him forever. Combining the differences in culture and considering the time in which it was written and the level of technology, his vision for the far-future was an interesting one. All buildings made entirely of glass. Everything see-through since no one had anything to hide. Food made of petroleum. Flying transport called aeros.

Socially, the perfect world, OneState, depicted in We was a world of automatons. People who all believed the same "truths" and all worked together in perfect rhythm for the good of all. People who were not people but numbers. I couldn't help but think about what kind of political or religious stance could lead someone down the path to this type of world. It was bothersome.

There were, of course, some fantastical sci-fi allusions which derived, I believe from the fact that the book was finalized in 1921 and I am reading it in an entirely different century. There was also a crazed feel to some of the writing. This was purposeful to give you the feeling that our protagonist, D-503, was losing his mind and gaining a soul (the worst thing imaginable). The ending was a happy/unhappy ending in which all order was renewed and everyone could again live in blissful happiness with a smile on their face but all imagination was quelled and "souls" erased.

Reading through the notes by the translator after I finished the novel (I always read these afterwards because otherwise they cloud my reading of the work itself), I was interested to find that Zamyatin had read H.G. Wells prior to his writing which helps a great deal with his somewhat campy sci-fi perspective. In a way, I wish that I had read this book knowing nothing of the author especially not the fact that he was Russian. This was a very western novel and unlike the other Russian novels I have read. Perhaps in his need to be non-specific about a particular political party or formula, his writing lost its "Russian-ness". I am intersted to read more works by Zamyatin to see if they are also western in feel.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to read a piece of literature as opposed to mere entertainment.

1 comment:

runbarbirun said...

Brooke...this book sounds SOOO boring... i almost couldnt get through your synopsis of the book much less the book itself.. I applaud you for reading stuff like this..!!! We just read a good book in my book club called "the help" it is new so it would be nixed on your book club list..but i loved it. Keep posting because im always looking for new books to read