Isaac's Reviews > We

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
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's review
Feb 13, 2008

liked it

There is something charming about this book, the familiarity of the ideas and the way you can see its influence twining through 20th century literature, but like a lot of pioneering works it's more interesting for what it says than what it is, I think. This could be the fault of a rather dreary translation which does not think of comprehensibility as one of its goals, or possibly just the fact that everything the book espouses has been gnashed over so much in our culture in the 80 years since it first appeared. Or it could be that the airtight economy of scale on which the book operates, which limits dystopia to a big glass bubble in the middle of the forest, takes the edge off its significance for people who are used to thinking of humanity as numbering in the billions.

One thing the book does have going for it is that for science fiction written in the twenties there isn't a lot here that doesn't make sense. The culture he describes is internally consistent, and the lack of hyper-modern technology makes sense in light of the long war that precedes the events of the narrative. The translator, in his introduction, said that the modern reader might find the work ridiculous; I don't think so. The protagonist is ridiculous -- but he's a mathematician brought up in a society that doesn't place any value whatsoever on individuation, so what would he be except for the biggest hothouse-flower nerd ever...?

Prescient, like all dystopiae, particularly in light of what happened in the 1950s and 60s -- well ahead of its time, quite clever, but not a lot of fun to read and never emotionally engaging precisely because we are never let outside of our protagonist/doofus's head. Not recommended unless you're interested in dystopian fiction. (If you are, it's absolutely essential.)

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Gabriel I think that this was the first book I put into Goodreads when I signed on. Maybe it takes a certain mathematical persuasion to enjoy the protagonist, maybe the translation I read worked better (Mirra Ginsburg). I still think that this is the best of the three big dystopian novels; 1984 and Brave New World being the other two.

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