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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
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Feb 04, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction
Read in February, 2012

WE. (1924). Eugene Zamiatin. ****.
Zamiatin was a Russian writer whose works were banned in Russia. In order to pursue his dreams of writing but considering his situation under the then current regime in regard to his writings, he wrote a letter to Stalin requesting a visa to visit Europe, where he could continue his writing. Surprisingly, the visa was granted, and Zamiatin left Russia for Europe. He ultimately ended up in France. This work, although written in Russian, was never published there. The first printing was of a Czech translation which was then translated into English. The book is probably a perfect example of a satiric Utopian novel. It is recognized as the inspiration for George Orwell’s, “1984.” The setting is some time in the future, after the “Two-Hundred Year’s War.” All of the roads have been destroyed during the war, and only green fields – impassable by the surviving people – remain. Only about 20% of the people of the world managed to survive the war, so that most of the problems stemming from over-crowding disappeared. Cities and towns have been isolated from each other, surrounded as they are by the green fields which hold unknown and unnamed dangers. The story is told in diary form by D-503, a man living in one of the remaining cities. He ultimately explains the beliefs of the citizens of his world as separating “I” from “We.” The earlier practice of personal ownership has been abolished. The survivors have realized that freedom and happiness are incompatible. Most men now believe that their freedom is more than a fair exchange for a high level of materialistic happiness. No one in this new society has a name. All are known by their combination of letters and numbers. Vowels plus a number equals a woman. Consonants plus a number equal a man. Our writer is known as D-503. The problems begin when he becomes attracted to I-330. Normally, relations between men and women are controlled by the issuance of a pass from the state that permits a man and woman to meet for one hour a week in his apartment, and to close the curtains. Any woman or any man can apply for a pass for any other person. This is not “free love,” but more like free opportunity. Unfortunately, D-503 and I-330 develop an attraction to each other that goes beyond opportunity, and they begin to share other thoughts and ideas. I-330 leads D-503 to The Ancient House, a part of the vast museum kept up by the state to show what previous centuries were like. There, the two explore relics and feelings of the past, to their ultimate downfall. When their secret liaisons are discovered, they become subject to punishment by “The Well-Doer,” the giver and taker of privileges. It is amazing how close Orwell’s book was to this one. Well written, the book tends to drag a bit in the middle as the author tries to make sure that we get all of his philosophical ramblings about the new society. Other than that, it is surprisingly readable by today’s standards, and still relevant to man’s situation. Recommended.
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