WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin


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When Maxim Gorky read We in the early '20's, he thought it ""frightfully bad, an altogether sterile thing. Its anger is cold and dry, it is an old maid's anger."" Gorky was quite wrong. We is a shapely work of the imagination. As the first major anti-utopian fiction it famously stood both the Soviet Union and the Wellsian scientific romance upside down. Zamyatin's style, the dehydrated tone and the surrealist detail, the blending of the laconic and the fantastic, perfectly evokes, through the narrator's diary, one of those superstates of the future, a marvel of technology and servitude, a glassenclosed Moloch where the inhabitants have numbers instead of names, the Hour Tables regulate activity, the Benefactor morosely rules, and happiness seems a geometric proposition. For Gorky, Zamyatin had turned his back on history, particularly Russian history. We, to him, was simply an act of spite, the revenge of a reactionary. But its roots go deeper. One can hardly read Zamyatin without recalling the diatribe against the Crystal Palace in Notes From the Underground. Certainly Dostoevsky's great fear of rationalism swallowing man's soul is the dramatic donnee of Zamyatin's totalitarian satire. The narrator, D-503, unexpectedly comes across an upsetting theorem which dissolves the laws of his universe; he falls in love with the leader of an underground movement; they escape beyond the Green Wall to the primitive past. After the rebels are captured, D-503 is reconditioned; he becomes an unmoved spectator at the torture of his beloved. The events of We, of course, are, by now, stereotypical; moreover, there's an aura of 19th century romanticism to Zamyatin's ideas about ""freedom"" and ""individualism."" Still, We has its own peculiar wryness and grace, often a good deal sharper than the pamphleteering of 1984 or the philosophical schema of Brave New World -- its celebrated descendants.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1972
ISBN: 081297462X
Publisher: Viking