We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

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This one, as most of what I read, popped up on my Amazon feed. I had no idea what it was about but it did sound mysterious and for some reason I thought it had something to do with aliens and space, I was way off by the way. Still the cover art looked cool and the title had me wondering what the story was about, so I had to check it out.

Yevgeny Zamyatin was a Russian scifi and political writer. He was very critical of Communist Russia and in fact We was the first literary work banned by the Soviets. He was able to get the work smuggled out of Russia to be published in the West. Zamyatin pleaded with Stalin to let him leave the country and eventually was granted his release. He later moved to Paris where he died of a heart attack in 1937. Zamyatin along with Huxley, Orwell, Jack London, and Kurt Vonnegut are among the greats that created wonderful classic dystopian society novels. Not only a great writer but also truly a brave individual to challenge the power Soviet empire.

The story is about a dystopian society in the far future. It follows a man named D-503 (everyone in this society has a number instead of a name) and his life in the walled city. 503 is an engineer building a giant space ship called the Integral, he also decided to start keeping a journal of his life, and that is what the reader is actually reading. Later he meets a mysterious girl called I-330 who is by all accounts of society, backwards. She smokes, drinks, and is somewhat openly defiant of the One State. 503 is fascinated by her and continues to hang out with her, while trying to understand this woman who intrigues him. Soon he realizes that there is much more to 330 than meets the eye and his whole world is about to be turned upside down as he continues to travel deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. In the end 503 has to make a choice, his choice is not entirely his own.

img_3272I have to admit that I love dystopian society novels they are among my favorite. 1984, A Clockwork Orange, and Brave New World are among my favorite books, the latter two are quite possibly my two favorites. 1984 was good but just ok in my opinion, still I recommend that you should read all three of these and why not throw We in as well. With that being said I really liked this one and the more I think about all the themes in the story the more I find it a great read. There are so many ideas and themes to explore in this one that it is hard to talk about them, and that is what makes a great novel stand the test of time.

From what I have read Zamyatin, he drew heavily on his experience living in the Communist Soviet State to write this novel. It was also banned in Russia for a long time after it was written. I think it is safe to say that when the state, no matter the regime, bans a book or form of literature you know it is good and or powerful. I say powerful because this book is by all accounts supposed to the original dystopian society novel. Some give credit to The Iron Heel by Jack London, but either way both of these two books opened up a new genre. There are even some that say that George Orwell used We to write 1984 and there is some evidence to suggest this as well. Some also say that Aldus Huxley used it as inspiration to write Brave New World, although this is not as popular a theory. Having read all three, I think 1984 is very closely related to We in terms of the story. There are quite a few similarities that appear in both, whereas they are much fewer in Brave New World. I only say this because there are some out there that think 1984 is one of the greatest novels ever written, but if you read We, then 1984 is almost a recycled plot. So to me it is tough to say that something is the greatest when it basically mimics a previous work with very little new spin.

Sex was one of the themes I found interesting in the book. While this aspect was not touched upon in 1984 it was used in Brave New World. In We every number has to ask register to have sex with another number. Once it is approved the numbers are given a pink slip of paper and then the two numbers schedule time to have sex. Pretty bizarre, but still it is something that is once again controlled by the One State. The One State is all about control and every minute or aspect of those living in the city is controlled.

I will say that at times the story did get a little hard to read. What I mean by that is that the character in the story was near losing his mind basically throughout the whole story. So at times his journal reflected this with ramblings or using way too many metaphors to explain what was going on. This certainly hammed the point home that this was an unstable man but it did make it difficult to read. So it was necessary for the story but again made reading a bit clunky and at times hard to understand what was actually going on, as 503 was losing touch with reality. Still though it was interesting to see how a person who has had their whole word laid out for them suddenly given a bit of freedom and their reaction to it. That is one aspect of the story that I found absolutely fascinating, and it is also interesting to see how people adapt to things especially control. In this world there is no free time, every second of every day is set aside for a specific use by The Table, which is basically a schedule for every day. In fact freedom scares the populous in this world, which I found interesting.

To me by far the most interesting aspect of the story is D-503. I loved how the author portrayed this character and how he interacts with I-330. That relationship is something that I think we can all relate too. That mysterious person you meet that is somewhat of a rebel while you are a straight shooter, naturally you must learn more about this person. Why are they different, what is it about them that interests you? More often than not these relationships end in tragedy or at least someone getting their heart broken. Everyone has experienced something to that effect. That same thing is going on in this story albeit just in a different context. I loved to see how 503 struggles with who he is and what is going on, and as I said above he is literally losing his mind. Can you imagine thinking and believing the world was one way and then slowly finding out that it was not that way at all. What would you do, would you try anything and everything to get back to your comfort place or accept the way the world really is? That is a tough question and I think would certainly drive a person to their limit, especially if they have been brain washed as 503 has. I found it almost enjoyable to watch him squirm with his relationship with 330 (sexual tension makes for a very good read in my opinion) and struggle to disavow what he thinks is true and peruse 330 and her bizarre ideals. Does he choose love or the One State, and I would boil that choice down to following his heart or his brain. That is a major point of the story in my opinion, does 503 use logic to solve his problems or think with his heart. The major issue is that he has been brainwashed for years and years of living in the One State and his logic is skewed.

I have to say that this is one of my new favorites, I don’t think it has pushed my two number one’s from their perch but it certainly is in the conversation. I highly recommend this one as there are so many talking points. And I will say that why this book and the others I have mentioned are not taught in schools, I have no idea. Instead lets read a stories that are extremely dated, have very little to modern society, yeah that makes sense, NOT! Anyways, you need to read this one as it is the original dystopian society novel, and you also need to read the others I said as well. I am sure any good science fiction fan already has. Check this one out if you get a chance.

Manik

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