We Yevgeny Zamyatin

Dec 15, 2014 review (read between Dec 9, 2014 – Dec 14, 2014)

1st reading read review on Goodreads

Published 8 years before Brave New World and over two decades before 1984, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is without a doubt among the forerunners of the dystopian science fiction genre. We shares many themes with its arguably more popular contemporaries Brave New World and 1984 (or they share many themes with We, depending on how you want to look at it). A totalitarian state ruling a failed utopia, the inevitability and necessity of change, and the struggle of individuality versus the collective.

Despite the similarities, however, We still offers its own horrifying vision of a dystopian future, its people, and their struggles. The protagonist, D-503, is a mathematician and the builder of the spaceship INTEGRAL. The ship is designed to expand the reaches of OneState beyond Earth. OneState is the all-seeing and all-controlling government which rules the planet a thousand years after the ‘200-Years War,’ a war that resulted in the death of most of the planet’s population from the use of weapons of mass destruction, which also turned the landscape beyond OneState’s Green Wall into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The buildings (and even streets!) are made of glass so privacy is nearly nonexistent; the only exception being when the government grants short, impersonal sex visits, which anyone can request of anybody of the opposite gender. All citizens of OneState wear the same uniforms, share the same daily schedule, and vote for the same leader during the annual elections. There is, however, trouble brewing in the machine, and soon D-503 is unwittingly thrust into a series of encounters and events that lead him to question everything he knows.

The story is told via D-503’s retelling of these events in his journal. Being a mathematician in the ‘perfect’ world of OneState, he attempts to find logic and and reasoning in everything that does not make sense to him (he frequently makes references to the unknown ‘X’, the irrational √-1, and his INTEGRAL spaceship). And as the events unfolding rapidly escape his ability to rationally explain them, his stream of consciousness onto the pages of his journal become more and more frantic and confused, which I found effectively conveyed the feeling of haplessness and despair. We is not a long book, but manages to be incredibly engaging through its storytelling.

I would argue that 1984 has a more compelling world and story, but Zamyatin also effectively builds not only an interesting and terrifying post-apocalyptic dystopian world, but a powerful cast of characters and interactions as well. Also interesting is the fact that Zamyatin wrote We after the Russian Revolution as satire towards the Communist Party. Fearing censure, he smuggled the manuscript to America, where it was published first. This would eventually lead to Zamyatin’s blacklisting and exile from communist Russia. Zamyatin had more on the line than both Huxley and Orwell combined. That said, if you enjoyed Brave New World or 1984, I highly recommend checking out We.