Review: We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

76171eBook purchased by myself


In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier — and whatever alien species are to be found there — will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.

One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery — or rediscovery — of inner space…and that disease the ancients called the soul.

A page-turning SF adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. Its message of hope and warning is as timely at the end of the twentieth century as it was at the beginning


I don’t normally review classics, but sometimes it’s good to look at your past to better understand your present. We is more or less considered to be the first novel acknowledged as dystopian. It inspired the likes of Orwell (who got inspired to write 1984 after writing a review of this book) and Huxley (Brave New World). It not only created the genre as we know it, but was also meant as a pointed critique of the Soviet Union (remember this was written back in 1933). And on those counts, how does it fare?

As satire, it works. The book first and foremost feels like a satire. D-503 doesn’t feel like a human, he feels like a robot. But that’s what the idealized United State would have of its citizens – beings of precision who operate precisely according to their assigned Tables which proscribe when to sleep, when to eat, when to walk and  thanks to medicine, a certain number of Impersonal Sex Visits based on the hormone levels of a given Number. It’s the idealized state, where everyone pulls their part, is happy in their roles, and never questions the Well-Doer.

As a dystopian….eh. The others did it better. The novel this reminds me the most of is Brave New World, because like in Huxley’s novel, D-503 gets to see life outside the Green Wall. So while you can possibly argue that Huxley is a bit derivative, because his isn’t satire, his book is elevated in one very real way: the characters in Brave New World feel human. D-503 does not. You care about the former. You don’t about the later.

Aside from the lack of connection, the language D-503 uses is full of excessive exclamation points and formality, the kind you might see in propaganda. It works for the satire, but I found it alienating and at times, it made it difficult to discern what was going on.

I’m glad I read this book, but I don’t know that I can say I enjoyed it: I think there are legitimate reasons that its successors have stayed in the spotlight. Still, if you’ve read enough dystopian novels that you’ve lost sight of what they should be, this is a good reminder.

This book is an interesting read if you like literary history, but if you want to read classics of this genre, stick to 1984 or Brave New World instead.

Verdict: Borrow It

Available: Now


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