Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel We, written in the early 1920s as the new government of the Soviet Union was beginning to show its authoritarian character, is one of the great classics of dystopian fiction. It presents a chilling vision of the future of the Soviet experimentand presents as well a broader picture of mechanization and conformity coming to dominate modern life as whole.
Kirsten Lodge has newly translated the novel for this edition. In addition to the text itself, she provides an informative introduction and a range of background materials that help set the novel in its historical context.
About the Author
Kirsten Lodge is Assistant Professor of Comparative and World Literature and Humanities at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
A Declaration. The Wisest of Lines. A Poem.
I am merely copying, word for word, what was printed in the State Gazette today:
In 120 days, the construction of the Integral will be complete. The great, historic hour when the Integral will soar through the Earth’s atmosphere is nigh. Some thousand years ago, your heroic ancestors subjugated the Earth to the power of the One State. Today, you are confronting an even greater conquest: the integration of the infinite equation of the universe with the crystalline, electrified, and fire-breathing Integral. You are confronting unknown creatures on alien planets, who may still be living in the savage state of freedom, and subjugating them to the beneficial yoke of reason. If they won’t understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to force them to be happy. But before resorting to arms, we will employ words.
In the name of the Benefactor, let it be known to all ciphers of the One State:
All those who are able are required to create treatises, poems, manifestos, odes, or any other composition addressing the beauty and majesty of the One State.
These works will compose the first cargo of the Integral.
All hail the One State, all hail ciphers, all hail the Benefactor!
As I write this, I feel something: my cheeks are burning. Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes. You see, the line of the One State—it is a straight line. A great, divine, precise, wise, straight line—the wisest of lines.
I am D-503. I am the Builder of the Integral. I am only one of the mathematicians of the One State. My pen, more accustomed to mathematical figures, is not up to the task of creating the music of unison and rhyme. But I might as well attempt to record what I see, what I think—or, more exactly, what we think. (Yes, that’s right: we. And let that also be the title of these records: We.) So these records will be manufactured from the stuff of our life, from the mathematically perfect life of the One State, and, as such, might they become, inadvertently, regardless of my intentions, a poem? Yes—I believe so and I know so.
As I write this: I feel my cheeks burn. I suppose this resembles what a woman experiences when she first hears a new pulse within her—the pulse of a tiny, unseeing, mini-being. These records are me; and simultaneously not me. And they will feed for many months on my sap, my blood, and then, in anguish, they will be ripped from my self and placed at the foot of the One State.
But I am ready and willing, just as every one—or almost every one of us. I am ready.
Ballet. Quadratic Harmony. X.
Spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild, invisible plains, the wind brings the yellow honey-dust from a flower of some kind. This sweet dust parches the lips—you skim your tongue across them every minute—and you presume that there are sweet lips on every woman you encounter (and man, of course). This somewhat interferes with logical reasoning.
But then, the sky! Blue, untainted by a single cloud (the Ancients had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapor). I love—and I’m certain that I’m not mistaken if I say we love—skies like this, sterile and flawless!
On days like these, the whole world is blown from the same shatterproof, everlasting glass as the glass of the Green Wall and of all our structures. On days like these, you can see to the very blue depths of things, to their unknown surfaces, those marvelous expressions of mathematical equality—which exist in even the most usual and everyday objects.
For instance, this morning I was at the hangar, where the Integral is being built, and suddenly: I noticed the machines. Eyes shut, oblivious, the spheres of the regulators were spinning; the cranks were twinkling, dipping to the right and to the left; the shoulders of the balance wheel were rocking proudly; and the cutting head of the perforating machine curtsied, keeping time with some inaudible music. Instantly I saw the greater beauty of this grand mechanized ballet, suffused with nimble pale-blue sunbeams.
And then I thought to myself: why? Is this beautiful? Why is this dance beautiful? The answer: because it is non-free movement, because the whole profound point of this dance lies precisely in its absolute, aesthetic subordination, its perfect non-freedom. If indeed our ancestors were prone to dancing at the most inspired moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades), then all this can only mean one thing: the instinct for non-freedom, from the earliest of times, is inherently characteristic of humankind, and we, in our very contemporary life, are simply more conscious . . .
To be continued: the intercom is clicking. I lift my eyes: it reads “O-90,” of course. And, in half a minute, she herself will be here to collect me: we are scheduled for a walk.
Sweet O! It has always seemed to me that she looks like her name: she is about ten centimeters below the Maternal Norm, which makes her lines all rounded, and a pink O—her mouth—is open to receive my every word. Also: there are round, chubby creases around her wrists—such as you see on the wrists of children.
When she entered, I was still buzzing inside out with the fly-wheel of logic and, through inertia, I started to utter some words about this formula I had only just resolved (which justified all of us, the machines and the dance): “Stunning, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, the spring, it is stunning . . .” O-90 smiled pinkly.
Wouldn’t you know it: spring . . . I say “stunning” and she thinks of spring. Women . . . I fell silent.
Downstairs. The avenue is crowded: we normally use the Personal Hour after lunch for extra walking when the weather is like this. As usual, the Music Factory was singing the March of the One State with all its pipes. All ciphers walked in measured rows, by fours, rapturously keeping step. Hundreds and thousands of ciphers, in pale bluish unifs,* with gold badges on their chests, indicating the state-given digits of each male and female. And I—we, our foursome—was one of the countless waves of this mighty torrent. On my left was O-90 (a thousand years ago, our hairy forebears most probably would have written that funny word “my” when referring to her just now); on my right were two rather unfamiliar ciphers, a female and a male.
The blessed-blue sky, the tiny baby suns on each badge, faces unclouded by the folly of thought . . . All these were rays, you see—all made of some sort of unified, radiant, smiling matter. And a brass beat: Tra-ta-ta-tam, Tra-ta-ta-tam—like sun-sparkling brass stairs—and with each step up, you climb higher and higher into the head-spinning blueness . . .
And here, like this morning in the hangar, I saw it all as though for the very first time: the immutably straight lanes, the ray- spraying glass of the streets, the divine parallelepipeds of the transparent buildings, and the quadratic harmony of the gray-blue ranks. And: it was as if I—not whole generations past—had personally, myself, conquered the old God and the old life. As if I personally had created all this. And I was like a tower, not daring to move even an elbow, for fear of chipping fragments off of walls, cupolas, machines . . .
And then, in an instant: a hop across centuries from 1 to 2. I was reminded—obviously, it was association by contrast—I was suddenly reminded of a painting in the museum depicting their olden day, twentieth-century avenue in deafening multicolor: a jumbled crush of people, wheels, animals, posters, trees, paint, birds . . . And do you know, they say that it was actually like that—that it’s actually possible. I found that so improbable, so ludicrous, that I couldn’t contain myself and laughed out loud.
And then there was an echo—a laugh—coming from the right. I spun around: the white—unusually white—and sharp teeth of an unfamiliar female face were before my eyes, before me.
* This word is probably derived from the ancient word Uniforme.
“Forgive me,” she said, “but you were observing your surround-ings with such an inspired look—like some mythical God on the seventh day of creation. It looked as though you actually believed that you, yourself, had created everything—even me! I’m very flattered . . .”
All this was said without smiling, and I’d even go as far as to say that there was a certain reverence (maybe she was aware that I am the Builder of the Integral). And I don’t know—perhaps it was somewhere in her eyes or eyebrows—there was a kind of strange and irritating X to her, and I couldn’t pin it down, couldn’t give it any numerical expression.
For some reason, I became embarrassed and, fumbling, began to justify my laughter to her with logic. It was perfectly clear, I was saying, that the contrast, the impassable chasm, that lies between today and yesterday . . .
“But why on earth impassable?” What white teeth! “Across the chasm—throw up a bridge! Just imagine it for yourself: the drums, the battalions, the ranks—these were all things that existed back then too. And consequently . . .”
“Well, yes, it’s clear!” I cried (it was an astonishing intersection of thoughts: she was using almost exactly my words—the ones I had been writing just before this Walk). “You see, even in our thoughts. No one is ever ‘one,’ but always ‘one of.’ We are so identical . . .”
Her words: “Are you sure?”
I saw those jerked-up eyebrows forming sharp angles toward her temples—like the sharp horns of an X—and again, somehow, got confused. I glanced right, then left and . . .
She was on my right: thin, sharp, stubbornly supple, like a whip (I can now see her digits are I-330). On my left was O-90, totally different, made of circumferences, with that childlike little crease on her arm; and at the far right of our foursome was an unfamiliar male cipher, sort of twice-bent, a bit like the letter “S.” We were all different . . .
This I-330 woman, on my right, had apparently intercepted my confused glance and with an exhale: “Yes . . . Alas!”
In essence, her “alas” was absolutely fitting. But again, there was something about her face, or her voice . . .
I—with uncharacteristic abruptness—said: “Nothing alas about it. Science progresses, and it’s clear that given another fifty, a hundred years . . .”
“Even everyone’s noses will be . . .”
“Yes, noses,” I was now almost screaming. “If, after all, there is any good reason for enviousness . . . like the fact that I might have a nose like a button and some other cipher might have . . .”
“Well, actually, your nose, if you don’t mind me saying, is quite ‘classical,’ as they would say in the olden days. And look, your hands . . . show, come on, show me your hands!”
I cannot stand it when people look at my hands, all hairy and shaggy—such stupid atavistic appendages. I extended my arms and with as steady a voice as I could, I said: “Monkey hands.”
She looked at my hands and then at my face: “Yes, they strike a very curious chord.” She sized me up with eyes like a set of scales, the horns at the corners of her eyebrows glinting again.
“He is registered to me today,” O-90 rosily-joyfully opened her mouth.
It would have been better to have stayed quiet—this was absolutely irrelevant. Altogether, this sweet O person . . . how can I express this . . . She has an incorrectly calculated speed of tongue. The microspeed of the tongue ought to be always slightly less than the microspeed of the thoughts and certainly not ever the reverse.
At the end of the avenue, the bell at the top of the Accumulator Tower resoundingly struck 17:00. The Personal Hour was over. I-330 was stepping away with that S-like male cipher. He commanded a certain respect and, now I see, he had a possibly familiar face. I must have met him somewhere—but right now I can’t think where.
As I-330 departed, she smiled with that same X-ishness. “Come by Auditorium 112 the day after tomorrow.”
I shrugged my shoulders: “If I am given instructions to go to the particular auditorium you mention, then . . .”
With inexplicable conviction, she said: “You will.”
The effect of that woman on me was as unpleasant as a displaced irrational number that has accidentally crept into an equation. And I was glad that, even if only for a short while, I was alone again with sweet O.
Arm in arm, we walked across four avenue blocks. On the corner, she would go to the right and I to the left.
“I would so like to come to you today and lower the blinds. Particularly today, now . . .” O shyly lifted her blue-crystal eyes to me.
You funny thing. Well, what could I say to her? She came over only yesterday and knows as well as I do that our next Sex Day is the day after tomorrow. This was simply that same “pre-ignition of thought” as sometimes happens (sometimes harmfully) when a spark is issued prematurely in an engine.
Before parting, I twice . . . no, I’ll be exact: I kissed her marvelous, blue, untainted-by-a-single-cloud eyes three times.
Table of Contents
- The Context of We
- Literary Approaches to We
- A Note on the Text and Translation
- Work, Productivity, and “Scientific Management”
- from Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (1911)
- from Vladimir Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Governement (1918)
- from Aleksei Gastev, On the Tendencies of Proletarian Culture (1919)
- Proletarian Poetry
- Vladimir Kirillov, “We” (1917)
- Aleksei Gastev, “We Grow Out of Iron” (1918)
- Aleksei Gastev, “Whistles” (1918)
- Aleksei Gastev, “To a Speaker” (1919)
- Vladimir Kirillov, “The World Collective” (1918)
- Ivan Logimov, “We Are the First Peals of Thunder” (1919)
- Aleksei Mashirov-Samobytnik, “Follow Us!” (1919)
- Vasily Aleksandrovsky, “Workers’ Holiday” (1921)
- H.G. Wells
- from H.G. Wells, Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapter 9: “The Faith, Morals, and Public Policy of the New Republic” (1901)
- from H.G. Wells, “Scepticism of the Instrument” (1903)
- from H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (1905)
- Early Reception
- from Aleksandr Voronsky, “Literary Portraits: Eugene Zamyatin” (1922)
- Zamyatin on We
- from Yevgeny Zamyatin, “On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, Etc.” (1923)
- Early Twentieth-Century Art
- Early Soviet Posters
- Images of Zamyatin
What People are Saying About This
"One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century." -Irving Howe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like a refreshing breath of air, I chanced upon We as I was drowning in all the trashy sci-fi that has been filling shelves as of late. To say it simply, We is the best science fiction novel I have ever read (and I have read my fair share). It has, in its 203 pages, a story of a simple man who worships his government with a wild abandon, until the day when he contracts an awful and uniquely human condition. We is a prime, perhaps the greatest, example of a Dystopian novel: it in many ways sets the groundwork for ALL dystopian stories to come. In it we read elements of famous books to come, such as Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. But. but there is something more, different, indescribable about We that Zamyatin could never have planned: a magic that resides in between the words. That being said, We is also one of the most exclusionary books I have read as well. While I fully believe that this book has never achieved the popularity and success that it should have, shared by 1984 and Brave New World, I can truly understand why: We is written as the journal of a mathematical genius, and his view of nature as "some big equation, yet to be solved" leaks heavily into his journal entries and this, coupled with his conflicting ideas about himself and his surroundings, does not make a welcoming environment for the everyday reader. I highly recommend this book, but only to those hardcore sci-fi buffs and intellectual book-club readers that can wade through it. If it can be tolerated, or better yet appreciated for what it is, then We could be your next favorite-book.
Yevgeny Zamyatin has a very interesting history himself. Being a part of Russian Intelligentsia, he was a strong proponent of Russian revolutionary movement and a believer in "change" that was about to follow. While in England, he heard that the change is about to happen and Yevgeny rushed back, so that he could be part the movement to overthrow Czarist regime and create what he thought would have been a workers' paradise. Fast forward a bit and he started to realize that the change that he himself helped create was not at all what it was claiming to be and reality of that change created despot and despair. While the publishing and the media was not yet completely taken over by the new regime, he was able to publish and write several essays, but then further realizing that the regime is changing even more so, he was banned and even arrested for his ideological free voice. If you liked "Brave New World" and "1984", you will love this or actually the other way around. "We" was published before the other two and there are so many items here that were borrowed by Huxley and Orwell, it is not even a question of if, but obvious what and which portions were. Zamyatin creates a One State society in his novel "We", where everyone and everything is for Benefactor's sake and for the "happiness" of the citizens. The wall around the city doesn't just protect those from outside getting in, but also for those inside for being "happy". Here we see strong resemblances of the same picture perfect anti Utopian "Utopia" as in "Brave New World". We see rationing and partnership assignments, if you will, just like in Huxley's novel, and many parts, which I am sure Huxley decided to "borrow" from "We". Also, there are many examples of despot and punishment, social behavior and work related previsions as we see in "1984" later. My guess is as such. Since Soviet Union was not big on world copyright laws, and the fact that some of Zamyatin's works were not officially published until 1980s and even 90s, that both Huxley and Orwell had an opportunity to reviewing those works. Lesser in popularity of all three of those anti Utopian novels, "We" however does present a great example, interesting and clever plot on the society that is "great" in theory, but not so in reality. Zamyatin is a great visionary and this book, scary enough, could have been a road map for despots to use. "Freedom or happiness, but if you are free, you can't be happy" - We, Zamyatin. Also, the numerous examples of how "chaotic" the free world is and was, in what "We" refers to as in ancients' way of life. Freedom caused crime and war according to One State and Benefactor. It seems that by associating freedom with all the "evil" in the world, the Benefactor and Guardians are able to create this "perfect" happy world that is not free, but "happy". Overall, I really enjoyed reading this first of the three great anti Utopian novels. It is a wonderful example of both fiction and the author's reality, how utopia only exists in theory, but in reality people do want and do strive for freedom to make their own decision and their own choices. Zamyatin's life, is a perfect example of to be careful of what you wish for and out of the three, he is the only author who actually wrote his work while living in completely despotic society. Highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys this genre.
I really won't get into it here. "We" is a book that you have to read to understand why I feel this way. If you remember reading dystopian novels in high school, I can guarantee that your teacher missed this jewel. A precursor and inspiration to 1984 and Brave New World, this book makes Ayn Rand's Anthem look like a kids book. (not to mention that I believe that her book is a blatant rip of the subject book.) Zamyatin's genius truly shines in this short but well thought out piece of anti-Stalinist writing, that transcends (as all good books do) time and space.
We is such a perfect novel that to sum it in such a small area such as this would be a great injustice to the magnitude of this novel's quality. Simply put: We is, hands down, one of the single greatest works of literature ever written.
WE is a true classic and an extraordinary novel in many senses. It was the inspiration behind George Orwell¿s book 1984, and other subsequent books of the utopian/dystopian sub-genre, such as UNION MOUJIK, BRAVE NEW WORLD. The age-old conflict between individual self and the collective being that man has grappled with in our efforts to become more human is treated beautifully in thus book. What is peculiar about it is that the author never allowed politics to dominate. Overall, the Utopian-Fantasy is a recommended read.
In a vivid, unified and ultra-socialist landscape Zamyatin plays out his vision of a future which is harrowing, disturbing and immediate. In a world of people who are addressed only as a series of numbers, a revolution is about to happen. This is essential reading for anyone interested in sociological, political or scientific matters. The book was a revelation in its time, banned in its country of origin for many years and proved to be the blueprint for Orwell's 1984.The book is modernist in style and reads incredibly quickly. The story unfolds in a series of cathartic diary entries made by the narrator to his unknown reader. A truly gripping, exciting and essential book.
An excellent book - one of the first recommendations I've taken from other readers. It surpasses Brave New World for me in depth.
Yevgeny Zamyatin was a very brave man. He completed We in 1921, a year before Stalin was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee. Even then, only 4 years after the revolution, Zamyatin realized that the communist party's original goal of freeing and supporting people was devolving into crushing the individual spirit. To dramatize the fearsome power of this new state Zamyatin wrote about a society many years in the future when, after a 200 years war in which all but 0.2% of the world's population has been lost and a One State government has been installed. The city, including people's apartments, is made of glass so everyone can be monitored at all times. People are no longer mere humans, they are referred to as numbers, and they live by a strict time schedule. Everyone does everything at the same time: arises, eats, walks, works, has sex. The premise of the state is that people can have freedom and unhappiness or happiness without freedom. They, with the guidance of their leader The Benefactor, have chosen happiness. As with all ideological movements that devolve into religions, human nature is abhorred as animalistic. People are to rise above their natures to become precise, logical machines. The main character, D-503, throughout the book sings the praises of the One State and bemoans the fact that his hairy hands are evidence of his animal nature. He says that humans are governed by love and hunger - and he encounters both. While the Benefactor is moving to complete human evolution to machines by promoting an operation that removes the imagination, D-503's imagination expands, his heart expands, and he begins to see cracks in his perfect society. I've read that George Orwell used ideas from We in writing 1984. Zamyatin was very brave to expound them in the first place.
A dystopia of a Taylorized, rationalized totalitarian future, told from the perspective of an adherent of the OneState, and the designer of that tyranny's signature achievement, the spaceship Integral. It's in Russian, so what do I know, but the prose as translated is both ironical and poetical: "The gods had become like us, ergo we've become like gods." Recommended.
WE is commonly read as a dystopian novel of the horrors of a totalitarian state: ultimate power in the hands of the Great Benefactor, individuals subsumed into the collective consciousness of the OneState, daily routine governed by a Table of Hours, prescribing when to wake, when to work, when to eat, when to sleep, and when to dream (never). The dangerous potential in this reading is to place the manifestation of this state in some other place, some other time. Not just mistaking the Stalinist state for the (chronologically more relevant) Leninist state, but to confuse the outer trappings of totalitarianism with the actual control mechanisms. The latter are not limited to any particular form of government or any single regime, but can appear, in subtle guise, wherever attention is diverted and resistance is weak--perhaps right around you.WE can also be read, to good effect, as a commentary on the universal human condition, on what people expect of life, on what they find in life, and how they react to what they find. The setting is 500 years in the future, after a Two Hundred Years war which nearly wiped out humankind. The professed goal of the OneState is to provide for the happiness and well-being of the populace--an attractive proposition given the devastation of the recent past. By the numbers, it is successful. A protective barrier, the Wall, protects the populace from the dangers of the chaotic world outside. Petroleum-based food insulates them from dependence on an agriculture outside the Wall. Happiness comes from being an integral part of a homogeneous society. This works for most; for the others there is re-indoctrination and a liquidation option.If you're with the program, life is good. If not, you seek an alternative to liquidation. D-503 is with the program. He has a prestigious position (Builder of the spaceship, Integral), a compatible consort (O-90), and a mathematical mind that embraces the Table of Hours. His only disappointment is having atavistic, hairy hands. But D-503's life begins to unravel once he encounters I-330. She draws D-503 into her world, an alternate, atavistic world where you can smoke, drink alcohol, dress frivolously, conjugate spontaneously. This freedom is what makes I-330 happy; she is on a mission to ensure a place in the world for this freedom and she needs the Integral to complete her plan.This same freedom makes D-503 confused and unhappy, his awakened desires conflicting with his felt need to conform to the rules of the OneState. I-330 seduces the reluctant D-503, playing on his desires so he will give up the Integral to the revolution. D-503 is seduced, but remains conflicted and cannot take the decisive action needed to deliver the Integral. The revolution continues, but fails, or at least falters. D-503 is caught in a roundup of dissidents, is lobotomized, and betrays I-330 to the OneState. He is again with the program.I-330 does not succumb under inquisition: "she threw back her head, half-closed her eyes, and squeezed her lips," the attitude she takes when performing a necessary, but not necessarily pleasant, task for her cause. She might be remembering the Buddhist tale of the general and the monk:All except the monk have fled his village in fear of advancing marauders. The monk shows no fear of their general who, incensed, says, "Don't you know who I am? I am the one who can run you through with this sword without batting an eye." The monk calmly replies, "Don't you know who I am? I am the one who can be run through by your sword without batting an eye." The general then spears the monk, and neither bats an eye.[In all extant versions of this story, the general instead spares the monk, bows, and departs, recalled to wisdom. It's the same thing, really.]D-330 has achieved the happiness of the angels (and of the walking dead), eternal bliss. Poor man; in fact, not man at all anymore. I-330 has achieved the happiness of the liquid dead, whatever that may b
I read the Myrra Ginzberg translation, and I wish that I had been able to read it in the original Russian. I thought the translation was poor, and did not do justice to the novel. I rarely give up on a book, but I thought about it a couple of times while reading We. The concept was good, with the preposition? of a Two Hundred Year War that wiped out all but .2% of the earth¿s population. I read in another review that the story takes place in the 2600¿s. I saw some obvious parallels to `1984¿ and some other dystopian novels. I particularly like the Benefactor¿s speech at the end of the book, regarding that society and Christian doctrine. I think the story could have been greatly enhanced with a reader¿s guide or a Sparknotes type document. I did a short search on the Internet and was not able to find one. I found it difficult to track the characters in the story, and most were rather flat and lacking in detail. I think it would come across much better as a movie, or with a better translation. Overall I am glad I finished the story. I think it is valuable as a precursor to later dystopian books.
In 1921, Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We became the first book to be banned by the Soviet censorship bureau, Glavlit. Mr. Zamyatin was not able to emigrate until 1931 when he arrived in Paris, some seven years after his novel had been published in English. We may have been the model for Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; Mr. Huxley claimed not to have read the novel but George Orwell declared him a liar over this point. Mr. Orwell began work on his classic novel 1984 just a few months after reading We and never denied it's influence on his own novel. We was not published in Russia until 1988.So is this a history lesson or a book review?The pleasure contemporary readers will find in reading We is equal parts literary and historical. Whenever science fiction makes a prediction about the future, be it utopian or dsytopian, it affixes a sell by label to itself. Sooner or later, it will become at least slightly dated. While it can remain both entertaining and enlightening on a literary level, it will also become a piece of historical interest. This is the case with We. It's easy to spot We's influence on George Orwell. In We, a mathematical genius called D-503 is working on the first interplanetary space craft called the Integral. The One State, where D503 lives, controls every aspect of its citizens' lives, down to the hour of each day-- rest, work, even the daily hour of free time are all controlled by the One State. During his hour of free time D-503 meets a woman, I-330, who tries to convince him to join her in a revolt against the state. I-330 takes D-503 to places he would not have considered before, like the other side of the Green Wall which separates the One State from the wilderness that was civilization before a series of wars destroyed all but a small percentage of humanity. Contact with I-330 leads D-503 to begin dreaming which is a sign of mental instability in a world determined to find a way to surgically eliminate imagination from the human mind. In the One State, logic is all that matters.Because D-503 is writing We as a confessional and because he often states how shocked he is at his own behavior in retrospect, the reader knows that his romance with I-330 will not end well. If you've spotted just how similar We and 1984 are, and you remember how things turn out for Julia, the love interest in George Orwell's novel, then you know what to expect. So is there more to reading Yevgeny Zamyatin's We than finding a greater understanding of George Orwell's 1984? Are there literary rewards to be found along with the historical ones? Try this passage from early in the novel when D-503 reads a poem by the great poet R-13:...I had been taking pleasure in a sonnet called "Happiness." I think I'm not mistaken if I say that it is a thing of rarity in its beauty and depth of thought. Here are the first four lines:Forever amorous two-times-twoForever amalgamated in passionate fourThe hottest lovers in the world--Inseparable two-times-twoAnd it continues on about all this--about the wisdom and the eternal happiness of the multiplication table. Every genuine poet is necessarily a Columbus. America existed for centuries before Columbus but it was only Columbus who was able to track it down. The multiplication table existed for centuries before R-13 but it was only R-13 who managed to find a new El Dorado in the virgin thicket of digits. Indeed: is there a place where happiness is wiser, more cloudless, than in this miraculous world? Steel rusts; the ancient God created an ancient human capable of mistakes--and, therefore, He made a mistake Himself. The multiplication table is wiser, more absolute than the ancient God: it never--you understand-- it never makes mistakes. And there is nothing happier than digits, living according to the well-constructed, eternal laws of the multiplication table. Without wavering, without erring. The truth is one, and the true path is one; and this truth is two-times-two, and
Very Timely Book!I know that this book was written in the 1920's but it is a brilliant foreshadowing of the reality that seems to be materializing before our eyes.This book is presented as the journal of D-503 a perfectly happy digit in the One State. The world and humanity has been reduced to the lowest common denominator. Individuality in thought or action has been eradicated. Humans have bee reduced to digits that are controlled by the mathematics of the Table of Hours and the world has been reduced to a space enclosed by a green wall and energy field overhead. In this world the digits are forced to be happy by conforming to the standards that have been set for happiness. The individual is immersed in the One State until there is no I just We. This tale is brilliantly told with the use of mathematical terms.This dystopia begins to hit home when the source of all of this forced happiness is revealed to be a government led by the Great Benefactor. This man has determined what is best for everyone else and the people are forced to comply. The people are constantly spied on by the Bureau of Guardians to insure that they develop no individual thoughts are desires. Equality of thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. is the rule of the day and the Great Benefactor will enforce his demanded happiness with death if necessary.I could not help but see modern day America in this narrative. The Great Benefactor is working to provide us with happiness even if he has to force us to take it. Room for individual thought is rapidly fading away. We must all accept the same behavior and ideas without question. Someone else will decide what makes us happy and we will be penalized if we do not agree until forced to comply. The diseases that ravaged the world of "WE" and could not be tolerated were a soul and imagination. Two priceless commodities in America at one time but now they are rapidly becoming nothing more than the square root of negative one.Well worth the read! Now on to the Devil's Advocate. I'm in a dystopian mood.
Read for philosophy class, but I had fun with it. It's really amazing reading science fiction that's so old and seeing the similarities, both with our world today, and later science fiction.
This book was important conceptually, as the precursor of Brave New World and 1984. As such, it deserves a significant place in world and Russian literature. It is easy to see why it was banned in the Soviet Union, with the unanimous elections in chapter 24 and the Benefactor sounding like Stalin, even though the latter had not yet acquired power at the time the book was written. However, as a story I found this dull. It takes place in a dream-like atmosphere, making the action difficult to follow, and draining some of the force from the potentially powerful ideas. As nameless numbered ciphers - a powerfully frightening idea - the characters lack the human believability of Winston Smith and Julia in 1984. The twist in the ending made me doubt what had happened anyway, though was very like the more brutally straightforward end of 1984.
The book has as its obvious shelfmates Anthem by Ayn Rand and 1984 by George Orwell, but it is more lyrical, more hysterical, more stream-of-consciousness. I suppose Orwell's prose is stronger and Rand is certainly more direct, but I actually loved its dreamy and confusing style, and didn't mind not knowing what the hell was going on a lot of the time. It seemed more true that a journal entry from this future world, with its strange premises and priorities, would read as confusing and boggling to me. Sometimes I didn't know which end was up, and it almost felt like the narrator was writing blind. I think that was intentional and masterful. One of the best and most convincing aspects of the book was that the narrator didn't always seem in control.This book begins with the narrator not only a willing part of this world without individuals, but an enthusiastic supporter of these ideas. He isn't grimy and hopeless about it all (ahem, Winston Smith?); he's a cheerleader for the system. Of course, it all goes terribly awry. It occurred to me as I was comparing those three books that the oppressive, dystopian system never seems to break down for these people because of acquisition of material wealth. It doesn't break down because they don't like being told what pants to wear either. These characters, denied property, denied privacy, denied choice, do not rebel to get their own TV or to get their own bank account or their own window shades. They rebel to get their own girl. It's always love that breaks the system down, that sends the main character tangentially off, destroying himself to be alone with the woman he loves. Interesting. I wonder if that is really true. Maybe it just makes good books, to say that people will give up fortunes but not give up a mate. We'd have a harder time cheering for the grey little cog in the machine, who breaks out of his place so he can triumphantly and emotionally buy a Corvette. Love makes a good novel. But is that really how it would work? The characters in We are allowed to bed whoever they want -- they just have to register and receive a "pink coupon" to make it happen. Would people really bring the world down around their ears just to reinstate monogamy?
This book scares me.Though its ending and the ending to 1984 are very similar, and I knew this before reading We, the ending of We terrified me, while the ending of 1984 simply made me sad.I think this is because Zamiatin presents a world where one cannot be fully human. Everything in the society he paints is done for a purpose, done toward explanation, integration, quantification. Even art, here poetry, is subjected to further serve the United State; there is no free human endeavor. While mathematics and science can both be free endeavor, when they are used as a means rather than an end in and of themselves, they become constrained, even slavish.What also worries me about this book is the contrast it makes between the civilized, technologically advanced, ordered society of d-503, and the disordered, naturalistic, "barbaric" society beyond the Green Wall. Aldous Huxley makes a similar contrast in Brave New World (which he later apologizes for, thankfully), between the world of soma and instant gratification and the world of the savage, as does George Orwell (to a less obvious extent) in 1984 with the proles and the Party members. This recurring contrast seems to imply that it is impossible to be fully human in advanced society, and that one must throw oneself back to nature and technological regression in order to be human. This is entirely unsatisfactory for someone living in modern society (and in fact almost entirely incapable of "escaping").This book, quite honestly, changed my life; it affected me that much. It also encouraged me to articulate my thoughts and concerns about modern society, which was very beneficial. I highly recommend this book (and apologize for this novel of a review).
As others have said already, if you like 1984, Brave New World, Anthem, or Utopia, you'll like this one too.
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is an early dystopian novel, possibly one of the earliest and certainly an inspiration for George Orwell's 1984. In fact, I was surprised how closely the plot of 1984 follows the plot of We.D-503 is our narrator and the head of the great Integral project of OneState. In OneState people are given numbers rather than names and every hour of the day has an allocated activity. As a background to D-503's narration, the Integral is being developed, something like a spaceship or rocket that will be able to fly to other planets so that the inhabitants of those planets can also share in the beauty that is OneState. OneState, it seems, has decided that it is best for humanity to have happiness rather than freedom. In fact, it believes that happiness lies in having no freedom. D-503 starts off as an enthusiastic supporter of OneState but when he meets and becomes enthralled by the rebellious female I-330, he becomes more and more confused about what he believes. The novel is described as a prose poem and I have to confess that I felt like I struggled with the prose at times. I read the 1993 translation by Clarence Brown, published by Penguin Classics but I found a couple of reviews that preferred the 2006 translation by Natasha Randall so this may partly have been due to the translation I was reading. I think there is probably a lot more to this short novel than I picked up on from my slightly rushed first read. Zamyatin uses a lot of mathematical imagery that I would like to think about more deeply on a reread. I think 1984 would probably get my vote for the better book but We is certainly worth reading if you want to understand the background to Orwell's book."I shall attempt nothing more than to note down what I see, what I think - or, to be more exact, what we think (that's right: we, and let this WE be the title of these records). But this, surely, will be a derivative of our life, of the mathematically perfect life of OneState, and if that is so, then won't this be, of its own accord, whatever I may wish, an epic?"
Excelent piece of early science fiction, without the sexism that permeates much of the genre.Please read this.
Futuristic - Socialist distopian novel, written in journal format from the perspective of an engineer of the One State. Reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 and Ayn Rand's Anthem.The book is good, but I can't quite tell how much my opinion is colored by the knowledge that WE is the first Sci-Fi Distopian novel ever published. The Sci-Fi aspects are very pure, a bit unfocused, very raw. What I didn't particularly care for is the relationship between the main character, D-503, and his love interest. He's completely wrapped around her finger, we aren't given a very clear idea of whether the feelings are truly reciprocal. The romance is not very well played out, but then D spends an entire chapter describing a feeling of internal struggle as his personal "square-root of -1".Over all, WE is a quick and entertaining read, recommended for anyone interested in dispotian sci-fi classics.
This book is the great-grandaddy of all dystopian lit. 1984 is ALMOST a complete rip-off (though it is definitely good on it's own) of this book. If you liked 1984, you will without a doubt like We.
This is a fun read - a future world where everything people do is meaningful and with purpose, nothing is done for what we perceive as fun. The hero named D-503 tells us most of what we need to know, thinking his notes will reach a race in outer space, send in a space ship he helped build. Everything is straight and clear, ruled mathematically by a totalitarian government. People live in glass houses, nothing is secret, nothing needs to be secret. Until D-503 meets I-330, a woman with an agenda.It is quite an amazing little book, written before 1921 it still seems fresh and up to date, the world in there still seems futuristic, although a tad closer now than it might have been then - I do not know much about Russia but I think a bit of knowledge about the political situation at the time of writing the novel would have giving me another, deeper level to discover. But even though, it's a darn good book!
Written in 1921, We foresaw Stalinism & the communist tendency to see people in statistical terms. Obviously a huge influence on Orwell & Huxley. It shows a great psychological understanding of living under totalitarianism. Stylistically it is interesting & part of the Russian avant garde of the time, but towards the end of the novel it becomes rather hyperbolic, which reduces the impact of the conclusion a little (a conclusion Orwell clearly remembered & learnt from).
If you love dysytopian science fiction, this book you really should read.