Jenny (Reading Envy)'s Reviews > We

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
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Dec 16, 12

bookshelves: location-russia, around-the-world, post-apocalypse-and-dystopia, sci-fi-fantasy, sff-audio, read2012
Read from April 06 to 29, 2012, read count: 2

Read again to discuss on SFF Audio; will link to podcast when it is posted.

This book has not been on my radar for long, but when something is considered to be "the best single work of science fiction yet written" (Ursula K. Le Guin) and the precursor of 1984 and Brave New World, not to mention the majority of current science fiction (Bruce Sterling introduction), I knew I couldn't put it off.

An interesting historical note - it was published in England (1921) long before it was published in Russia (1988), and Orwell read it before writing 1984.

For such a significant work, you might expect it to be difficult, or long, but We is around 200 pages and written as a journal. D-503 is a mathematician working on "The Integral," a rocketship of sorts that grows in importance throughout the story. The culture is completely mapped out, and everyone lives (literally) in step. Individuality is the most shameful trait.

I enjoyed the characters, and all the little details, such as the idea that the desire to dance proves that humans desire non-freedom.

A few quotations:
"I love - we love - skies like this, sterile and flawless!"

And since I'm such a great lover of Russian classical music, particularly Scriabin, the parts about creativity and music really capture me:
"They could create only if they drove themselves to fits of 'inspiration,' a strange form of epilepsy. And here is an amusing illustration of their results: the music of Scriabin, twentieth century..."

"...Epilepsy is a psychic sickness- a pain... a slow, sweet pain - a sting - and you wish it would go deeper, hurt more... Then slowly - sunshine emerges. Not our kind of sunshine, the pale-bluish-crystalline kind, which disperses evenly through our glass bricks- no: it was a wild, rushing, burning sun, expelling itself, shedding itself in little tufts."

"'WE' is divine, and 'I' is satanic."

"Individual consciousness is just sickness."

"Revolutions are infinite."

"[People] have wanted someone, anyone, to tell them once and for all what happiness is - and then to attach them to this happiness with a chain."

For even more information on the context of We, consult Eric Rabkin's article in Foundation no. 65.
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Reading Progress

04/08/2012 page 500
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Jenny (Reading Envy) I apparently am reading an updated translation of We, and before I read 1-10, I read both introductions. Bruce Sterling puts We in great context for how it was a precursor to most of science fiction, and had a definite influence on dystopian literature. It was published in English long before it was published in Russian because Zamyatin was constantly in jail for what he was writing.

I enjoyed the first quarter, mainly from the little details, such as the idea that the desire to dance proves that humans desire non-freedom.

A few little quotations:
"I love - we love - skies like this, sterile and flawless!"

And since I'm such a great lover of Russian classical music, particularly Scriabin, the parts about creativity and music really capture me:
"They could create only if they drove themselves to fits of 'inspiration,' a strange form of epilepsy. And here is an amusing illustration of their results: the music of Scriabin, twentieth century..."

"...Epilepsy is a psychic sickness- a pain... a slow, sweet pain - a sting - and you wish it would go deeper, hurt more... Then slowly - sunshine emerges. Not our kind of sunshine, the pale-bluish-crystalline kind, which disperses evenly through our glass bricks- no: it was a wild, rushing, burning sun, expelling itself, shedding itself in little tufts."


message 2: by TK421 (last edited Apr 09, 2012 06:21AM) (new) - added it

TK421 Great insights and comments. The part that really stands out for me in the first 10 chapters is the bleak reality that privacy is a nonentity. In fact, as I read this section, I kept thinking about how Facebook has strove to eliminate privacy altogether.

Question: At the end of chapter 4, what does the "if" mean?

And I have to agree, the details of Zamyatin's writing are breathtaking.

My one concern with the novel thus far are the names. O, I-330, D-503...I get what he is doing, I just don't care for it stylistically.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Gavin wrote: "Question: At the end of chapter 4, what does the "if" mean?."
I think that O is longing for love without having the vocabulary to express it. I think the value of a lack of emotion and connection is detailed even further in 11-20, particularly in the discussion about having a soul.

That has larger consequences when the machine he is building kills 10 people and nobody bats an eye. In a society where life has so little value (only the One State), who would waste time with names?

Now, this I-330 woman, what is going on, I get so confused....


message 4: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 I need to catch up with my reading....dang work, always getting in the of the important things in life!!


Jenny (Reading Envy) How's the reading going, Gavin? I just read through 30 but don't want to lose you....


Jenny (Reading Envy) So. 21-30.

What is the dream-disease?
What are the auditoriums being transformed into? Shards of glass sounds threatening.

Other non spoilery bits:

"'WE' is divine, and 'I' is satanic."

"Individual consciousness is just sickness."

"Revolutions are infinite."


message 7: by Boots (new) - added it

Boots I almost forgot that I have We on my to read list. After reading your review I'm looking forward to reading it.


message 8: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Sturgis I have so much love for this book! Every time I teach it or talk about it, I get excited about others reading it for the first time. I love your review. We obviously see it in the same light.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Amy wrote: "I have so much love for this book! Every time I teach it or talk about it, I get excited about others reading it for the first time. I love your review. We obviously see it in the same light."
I have this feeling that I will read it frequently, just like I pull out Orwell and Huxley and Atwood to reread them!


message 10: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy Sturgis I have this feeling that I will read it frequently...

Yes! I know I see something new in it, every time I read it. There's so much there.


message 11: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 We will have to come together again for a different book. It looks like you really got something from this novel...I'm jealous!


Jenny (Reading Envy) Gavin wrote: "We will have to come together again for a different book. It looks like you really got something from this novel...I'm jealous!"
Sorry I went ahead and finished, I just didn't want to lose it! But definitely - whenever you want. :)


Nataliya Wonderful review! This book is truly amazing.


message 14: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug Hi, Can you recommend some sci-fi dystopian novels? I need a list to pursue my Ph.D. on the same. Thank you.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Foram wrote: "Hi, Can you recommend some sci-fi dystopian novels? I need a list to pursue my Ph.D. on the same. Thank you."

Look at my bookshelf for post-apocalypse and dystopia.


message 16: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug Jenny wrote: "Foram wrote: "Hi, Can you recommend some sci-fi dystopian novels? I need a list to pursue my Ph.D. on the same. Thank you."

Look at my bookshelf for post-apocalypse and dystopia."


Thank you dear Jenny, I will look up your bookshelf...


message 17: by Lit Bug (new) - added it

Lit Bug Jenny wrote: "Foram wrote: "Hi, Can you recommend some sci-fi dystopian novels? I need a list to pursue my Ph.D. on the same. Thank you."

Look at my bookshelf for post-apocalypse and dystopia."


Dear Jenny, I looked up your bookshelf and was glad you suggested it... I'm just a bit confused as to whether all of them are dystopian... I did find a few that were explicitly dystopian sci-fi. Thank you for the list. It was a pleasure.


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