Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin - Book Review #85

Tuesday, September 21, 2010
We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Before Brave New World

Before 1984...There was...

WE

In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier -- and whatever alien species are to be found there -- will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.

One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery -- or rediscovery -- of inner space...and that disease the ancients called the soul.

A page-turning SF adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. Its message of hope and warning is as timely at the end of the twentieth century as it was at the beginning.
From goodreads.com

What would you get if you mix philosophy and mathematics and use exclusively logic, at times so precise and undeniable that it can be compared to mechanics to tell the story? You would be a masterpiece We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

It is a very short novel. I would probably even call it novella. However, every word in this short text is important. The words in We not just there to fill in the space, they are bricks that build this story. You take out one and might miss the point, or worth you might ruin the whole story. Almost every sentence can be used as a quote. Almost every paragraph can be used as an epigraph.

"There is no final one; revolutions are infinite."

"You're in a bad way! Apparently, you've developed a soul."

"Along the blade of a knife lies the path of paradox—the single most worthy path of the fearless mind ..."

"The speed of her tongue is not correctly calculated; the speed per second of her tongue should be slightly less than the speed per second of her thoughts -at any rate not the reverse."

"Those two, in paradise, were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative"

These are just some quote, maybe not my most favorite ones, but I read We in Russian and don’t have an English translation on hands to give you more, which maybe not a bad thing, or I might ended up quoting the whole book, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase.

I heard that a lot of people criticize Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style. I would have to disagree with that. First of all We is epistolary novel. In my opinion this make a story even more personal than if it is written from the first point of view. At the beginning of the story the writing style is rusty, almost mechanical. It reads like a collection of mottos approved by One State and Benefactor. However this is not Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style, it is D-503’s writing style - this is his notes. As story progress and the main character, D-503, evolves, so does his writing style. So based on this I would have to say that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s writing style is superb, because he was able to show the transformation of the character not only in the character’s actions, but also in character’s writing.

At first I found We’s ending to be devastating and heartbreaking. However, after I thought about the ending from the D-503 point of view I came to the conclusion that maybe it was the best ending for him in the giving circumstances, despite its devastating and heartbreaking nature.

There are a lot of things and at the same none at all that I can say to give We a justice it deserves. There are a lot of said before me and I’m sure there will be said even more after me. We is a timeless story about timeless issues that will never lose society’s interest. If you never read it, my advice would be to do so. Even if you won’t love it the way I did, it will most definitely give you food for thought.

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gjergj shoshi said...
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