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We Yevgeny Zamyatin


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Amazon.com: HASH(0x95773174) out of 5 stars 251 reviews
197 of 211 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9577dfcc) out of 5 stars "Everyone" and "I", a single "We" ... 9 Aug. 2004
By B. Alcat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) wrote "We" in 1920, in an URSS that was just beginning to show its true nature. He was able to observe at first hand the consequences of the expansion of the State and the Party, and the corresponding erosion of the value of the individual. The author called "We" his "most jesting and most serious work", and I think the reader will be able to appreciate both aspects of this peculiar book.

This novel takes place in the future, where the One State is ruled by the great Benefactor, and separated from the rest of the world by a Great Wall, that doesn't allow the outside world to "contaminate" it. The citizens of the One State aren't persons but merely numbers. They have almost no privacy, due to the fact that most things are made of a material similar to glass but much more resistant. In any case that isn't a problem, because as everybody does the same things at the same time, nobody has much to hide.

The One State begins to build a spaceship, the "Integral", that will be used to conquer other worlds and show them to be happy, in the way the citizens of the One State are happy. But how exactly are they happy?. Well, they have a rational happiness that can be mathematically proved. To mantain that happiness, they must always follow some rules. For example, there is no place for spontaneity in the One State. Imagination is considered a disease, and all art and poetry must be at the service of the State. The function of poetry is clear: "Today, poetry is no longer the idle, impudent whistling of a nightingale; poetry is civic service, poetry is useful".

As if that weren't enough, almost all activities are organized according to the Table of Hours: "Every morning, with six-wheeled precision, at the same hour and the same moment, we -millions of us- get up as one. At the same hour, in million-headed unison, we start work; and in million-headed unison we end it. And, fused into a single million-handed body, at the same second, designated by the Table, we lift our spoons to our mouths."

That main character in "We" is D-503, an important mathematician who is also a faithful follower of the great Benefactor, and a key participant in the building of the "Integral". He starts to write a journal, to allow other less fortunate societies to learn from the way things are done in the One State. This novel is that journal...

D-503 believes, at the beginning of this book, that the state of things in the One State is wonderful, and considers himself fortunate for being able to live in such enlightened times, where "¨everyone¨ and ¨I¨ are a single ¨We¨". But the unexpected happens when he starts to "fall in love" (an alien concept) with a number that has strange ideas, I-330. She makes D-503 start to question everything he had until then given for granted, and due to her he starts to develop a dangerous illness: a soul. As a consequence of that, D-503 cannot feel anymore as part of the whole, of "We", he cannot be merely a part of the whole...

D-503's inner turmoil is shown to us throughout the pages of his journal, and it is rather heartbreaking how much he suffers when he can't return to his previous state of certitude. If at the beginning of the story he was consistently logical, and used a lot of mathematical metaphores, as chapters go by the reader begins to notice a certain incoherence. That inconsistency probably has to do with the fact that D-503 no longer understands himself, because he has been deprived of certitudes that he considered essential in defining himself ("I have long ceased to understand who ¨They¨ are, who are ¨We¨ "). Before, he didn't exist as anything else that as a part of the State. After I-330's pernicious influence, he begins to suspect that things might not be so simple.

There are many themes present in "We", for example love, obsession, betrayal, freedom, the purpose of art and poetry, different kinds of revolutions, perfection, chaos... I haven't told you about many other interesting things I deem worth commenting about this book, but I think you will take greater advantage if you read "We" by yourself.

Zamyatin's book is a good science-fiction novel AND a dystopia. One of the many meaning of dystopia is a work that describes a state of things that is possible but not ideal. Its value lays, in my opinion, not in the likelihood that what it tells us will eventually happen, but rather in the fact that by deforming or satirizing reality it allows the reader to see it from another perspective. From my point of view, this novel is a classic, and has the distinct advantage of being both entertaining and easy to read. If you can, read it soon!!. I highly recommend it :)

Belen Alcat
92 of 99 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95b7703c) out of 5 stars A Depressing Dystopian Future 31 May 2003
By Jeffrey Leach - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Yevgeny Zamyatin, translator Clarence Brown tells us, had an enormous influence on George Orwell's seminal dystopian novel "1984." "We," written in 1924 as the turmoil of the Bolshevik revolution was in its final stages, definitely shares several similarities with Orwell's bleak novel. Most notable is the relationship between Zamyatin's protagonist, D-503, with a corrupting woman, a relationship that mirrors Orwell's Winston and Julia. But where Orwell was British, Zamyatin was Russian and writing in a time and place where dystopian visions were quickly becoming a reality. The author of "We" eventually left Russia forever (he actually wrote to Uncle Joe Stalin requesting permission to leave! What a brave soul!) and "We" did not appear in print in the Soviet Union until 1988. It is not difficult to see why: "We" is deeply subversive to totalitarian forms of government.
Zamyatin's novel, described in the Penguin edition as a "great prose poem," takes place in the twenty-sixth century in a geographical place unknown to the reader. The narrator of the story, the previously mentioned D-503, is writing down his experiences as part of a grand scheme to launch a rocket ship into outer space. D-503 is the chief mathematician of this project, named INTEGRAL, and the goal of the mission is to find life on other planets in order to bring them "elevation" through totalitarian government. The narrator's journal will accompany the rocket ship along with poems, letters, and other propaganda singing the praises of "OneState," which is the moniker of the ruling apparatus in D-503's world. OneState, with the mysterious "Benefactor" at the helm, rules with an iron fist through an intricate web of time management principles based on Frederick Winslow Taylor's contributions to the industrial revolution. At any given time of the day, millions perform the same functions at the same time. The only exceptions are sexual relations and a few hours of free time that D-503 hopes will one day be regimented as well. All of these activities take place behind the Green Wall, a barrier of glass that effectively separates the city from the countryside.
If you think Huxley and Orwell are bleak, Zamyatin's novel beats them hands down. The introduction to this version of "We" tries to stress that the book does have its humorous moments, but I found very little amusement in this story. People with numbers instead of names, uniforms as the only allowed apparel, the worship of technology not as a means of getting things done but as an example of desirable conformity, and death penalties for unplanned pregnancies all contributed to my sense of utter dread about the author's vision. This is a sad, dark tale about a possible future with little optimism. Zamyatin does include the obligatory revolutionary group, called MEPHI, personified in the form of a woman named I-330, who drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, and wears forbidden clothing on occasion. After a few encounters with I-330, D-503 becomes aware that he is suffering a "sickness," the symptoms of which are dreams and the discovery that he suddenly has a "soul." Regrettably, any hope offered by MEPHI and I-330 dissolves when the state takes the repressive measure of developing an operation that uses X-rays to melt imagination out of people's heads. By the time the conclusion of the story rolls around, hope is as distant as a ship on the horizon.
"We" is an unusual read. Things really start to take off when D-503 encounters the corrupt I-330. His awakening is often confusing to the reader. The ramblings of this mathematician make one wonder if he is really experiencing events or hallucinating them. I decided on the former because if his mind was not used to experiencing life outside of OneState it would follow that new sensations might produce a sense of bewilderment. It was enjoyable to see how the world came alive when D-503 experiences a bevy of colors and emotions; he starts to shout out his feelings, he cries, and he even daydreams on the job. While this sensory overload makes for difficult reading at times, it also makes for an engaging story.
Without this Russian pioneer's groundbreaking work, the dystopian genre may never have gotten off the ground. Zamyatin's "We" is not an easy book to read and understand, but it is an essential work that I should have read years ago instead of allowing it to languish on my bookshelf. Moreover, the author makes his narrator a cheerful advocate of OneState's authoritarian rule, a viewpoint that other dystopian novels fail to do and which makes "We" even more of a unique read. For fans of utopian and anti-utopian literature, Yevgeny Zamyatin's book is time well spent.
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95b77474) out of 5 stars "Only the unsubduable can be loved" 22 May 1999
By R. D. Allison (dallison@biochem.med.ufl.edu) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This novel (the edition I read was a translation from the Russian by Mirra Ginsberg in 1972) is an excellent satire by Yevgeny Zamiatin (or, Zamyatin). Reading it, I find it remarkable that Zamiatin was not sent to Siberia or executed in one of the many purges occurring in the Soviet Union at that time. Apparently, the book was never published in the Soviet Union. It appeared first in English in 1924 (and obviously had a major influence in the development of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four") and then in Czech in 1927. The Soviet authorities began to put pressure on the author through the Writers' Union and, probably due to the help of Maxim Gorky, Zamiatin was allowed to leave for Paris in 1931 (he died in Paris in 1937). The story is an extrapolation of a totalitarian world. The population of Earth that have survived a 200-years war find themselves members of a single state (the One State) where imagination is considered a disease. In this society the individual does not count, only the multitude. The central character is D-503 (all the inhabitants are numbers in this State), a mathematician who is building a space ship to bring their "perfect" world and culture to others. The whole novel consists of D-503's journal. However, D-503 soon meets I-330, a woman who shows him that there are numbers in the One State that feel that the State is in error and are striving for a new revolution. He begins to have strong feelings for her. He thinks he is ill but he can't help himself. And, he must keep his feelings hidden from the Guardians, the One State's "protectors." What a terrific "read." I highly recommend it (as well as "1984" and "Brave New World"). As can be seen in the comments by the other reviewers, "We" is a great book to discuss: with respect to politics, history, science fiction, or literature.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95b77840) out of 5 stars This edition reproduces the first English translation 20 Nov. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm writing this note just to alert readers that this large-print, hardcover edition of Zamiatin's We is not the translation by Mirra Ginsburg. I bought this book thinking it was Ginsburg's modern translation; she also translated his stories and essays, both great books. This particular edition actually uses the very first translation from Russian into English, by Gregory Zilboorg, published originally in 1924. This is the version Huxley, Orwell and Rand actually read; this is the version that influenced their respective dystopias: Brave New World, 1984 and Anthem. I have no means to compare this edition to Ginsburg's, but so far it appears to be just as readable. The question is: is it complete? In any case, the book itself is nice: a large-print, hardcover edition.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x95b775d0) out of 5 stars More than a simple satire of the Soviet Union 4 Feb. 2001
By Milos Begovic - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Evgeni Zamyatin's novel "We" is often compared to Orwell's "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World", and rightly so, since it is a strong influence on both (though Huxley of course denied it). "We" is a terrifying vision of a future, in which all aspects of life have been rationally mechanized, according to the best tradition of Taylorism. The residents of OneState have no freedom; instead they have infinite, mathematically proved happiness. "Those two in Paradise were given a choice: freedom without happiness, or happiness without freedom. The fools chose freedom. But we brought them back the chains," says R-13, one of the OneState's chief poets.
This nightmarish vision sheds light on the present, as well. Not necessarily, as is often stated, on the terror of one Stalin. The book was written well before the establishment of the Soviet state, and on an impulse that had long before prompted Zamyatin to write in a similar vein. An earlier novella of his, "Islanders", as well as many of his short stories and plays, all have the same philosophical purpose behind them: to show that the contemporary (at the time) trends in European society, culture and art are leading to a destruction of the individual will and a horrible mechanization of life. A recurrent theme in Zamyatin is the escape from overly-civilized cities, to the freedom of the countryside and of the nature itself. Zamyatin felt, and I would gladly argue that he was absolutely correct, that the modern European civilization gradually limits the scope of the individual's understanding of the world and draws him into a sort of slavery of the spirit.
I recommend "We" to everyone. For the depth of its philosophical stance, for its brilliant structure and wonderful language, this book is clearly superior to either "1984" or "Brave New World", though it is, unfortunately, not nearly as widely recognized.
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