We (Yevgeny Zamyatin)

We is a novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I read the English translation by Clarence Brown.
Finished on: 28.12.2019

D-503 is an engineer in OneState, working on a rocket ship. He has an arrangement with O-90 and things are pretty good, governed by the great timetable that makes sure that everything in OneState runs smoothly. But D is shaken out of his dependable routine when he meets I-330, a musician who openly flaunts a lot of OneState’s uniformity. D finds himself drawn to her, and I quickly turns his life upside-down.

We is probably one of the earliest dystopian novels, especially as we understand dystopias today. As such, it’s of course hugely significant – but it’s not just for that that it’s worth reading: it’s an excellently written book that is still pretty relatable even almost 100 years after it was written.

The book cover featuring an image of a futuristic city as imagined in the 1920s.

When you read We, you will probably find many things that feel familiar. Orwell himself stated that 1984 was influenced by We (and he also claimed that Huxley’s Brave New World was also inspired by it, though Huxley denied that) and Vonnegut stated that Player Piano was a rip-off of both 1984 and We. You can see the tendrils of its heritage in many different things. I had to think about Equilibrium a lot, for example.

Since I saw/read all of those rip-offs before reading the original, We feels very familiar. But that feeling of familiarity never turns to boredom – it’s too well written for any of that. The language is inventive and fantastic, drawing on math and chemistry to make poetry. Kudos to Brown’s translation in that regard as well.

Despite my enjoyment and probably because of the book’s density, it took me a pretty long while to finish it, although it is a rather slim novel. That it took me so long did make me a little impatient with my progress and eager to finish, but not necessarily in a good way.

Toward the end, when the plot turns more towards action, I did lose the thread a little. There the novel is at its weakest and things become a little confusing. I am still not sure what exactly happened at the space ship.

D is an interesting character, but I also enjoyed O and I who are a little stereotypical, but nevertheless very interesting women – and I feel like with two well-rounded female characters, We has outdone pretty much all of the books that were inspired by it (though I might misremember them).

Altogether, We was a very interesting read that I enjoyed a lot. If you are into Science Fiction, you should definitely catch up with this Russian classic. It’s worth it.

Summarizing: Really good.

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