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Book Review / We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

"A person is like a novel: Up to the very last page you don't know how it's going to end. Otherwise, there'd be no point in reading."

As at least partial inspiration for Orwell's 1984, We has been on my list for a long time. And on my shelf. The reason being because Brave New World left such a scar on my psyche, I needed to let it dissipate before leaping into another dystopic hellhole.

Interestingly enough, the similarities between this book and Huxley's are apparently coincidence, or so says my Penguin version. I think the one line in this book that is almost verbatim in BNW in comparison is "Everyone belongs to everyone else," - in We it's "Any Number has the right of access to any other Number as sexual product." But even such a similarity is possible without prior knowledge, considering scientific progress in the industrial age spawning many discrete inventions at the same time from different inventors. Regardless, all of these books are fantastic in their own right, and the ire there seems to be for Orwell's inspired text in 1948 on these reviews seem to forget that dystopias, nor most of the ideas within his work, were not invented by Zamyatin. H. G. Wells' The Time Machine was a, or the, classic dystopic commentary 25 years before We, and still unnerving today.

Written as a series of records as chapters, D-503s journey into his own psyche, or the infection of a 'soul', which subsequently terrifies and elates him. A credit to the translator of this version, Clarence Brown, who, though I don't speak or read Russian, seems to have captured the wistful naivety of the character fantastically, which I will presume existed in the original text. It does, very obviously, speak of a version of humanity that is in its infancy at this very moment. Those who are married to the state, whose entire existence is what they can get from it, what they are required to sacrifice for it, and the suppressant of individuality and spontaneity that living that way inevitably always turns into.

The wheels of OneState (set within a great wall) rely on the active regression the citizens. It relies on the full co-operation that they buy into the skewed history they have been fed and do not try and think beyond it. The indoctrination starts within the schools - doesn't it always...? Everything creative and imaginative has been reduced to mathematical rigidity, every hour of their lives - bar the personal hour, which in fact D-503 believes too can be removed from their Table of Hours - is accounted for, including, as above, when they have sex. Interestingly enough, the only time their glass houses - actual glass, by the way, as they are all visible all the time to everyone - is when they may draw their blinds for sex with their assigned Numbers. It is a horrifying and dehumanising setup, and the very extent of the eradication of freedom, and yet the slivers of these regimes and indoctrinations are not so far from some very questionable tactics in the West. There are regimes in this world that already operate such restrictions on the, and I use the term loosely, citizens of those countries.

The characters within all have surprisingly individual traits, certainly intended, and are all in their own way fighting against the restrictions of their environment, even if they don't realise it. There is also a sinister quality to the use and abuse of D-503 by I-330, who is much more enlightened, more adult-like, than him, and knows it. It's interesting, because though she's part of the resistant force, you're on his side, simple and naive as he is. His entire story is basically a case of whether he's going to take the red pill or the blue pill.

I read it in a night, missing my bedtime by a good few hours to finish it. I think, as in 1984 and BNW, that the themes and questions it raises for us in modernity are still relevant since its inception, more so now than ever, hindsight being so. There was a good reason that the Soviet regime didn't want this grand takedown of socialism and communism published (Russia only let it free in 1988!).

As the predecessor, inspired or no, of Orwell and Huxley's own fabulous horrorshows, it is essential reading. It didn't quite have the hopeless yearning that 1984 did for me, nor did it have the gradual depressing mortification to my soul that Brave New World did, but it has all the qualities that truly significant dystopic novels have, that loss of true freedom is not only the most significant part of dehumanisation, but that our willingness to give it up and live in feigned-ignorance that we have done so is not a fantasy. It is fucking terrifying.


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