BOOK REVIEW: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Posted: November 17, 2014 in Book Reviews
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Note: I normally don’t review books on this blog, but I’m reviewing one here as part of my Online Writing class. If you would like me to review more books and post them here, let me know in the comments below.

When you hear the word “dystopian,” what books do you think of? Perhaps you think of modern novels like The Hunger Games or Divergent. Perhaps you think of classic novels like 1984 or Brave New World. However, there’s one novel you probably didn’t think of, and I think it deserves to be more widely-known.

That novel, as you already knew by reading the title, was We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. With the possible exception of Jack London’s The Iron Heel, We is the first dystopian novel ever written. Written in 1921 and translated to English in 1924, it was actually the first book that was censored by the Soviet Union, largely due to one of the characters saying, “There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.” (This obviously conflicts with communist theory, as the worker’s uprising is supposed to be the final revolution.) It was also influential with Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, who wrote Brave New World and 1984, respectively.

After the apocalyptic 200-Years War, society is reorganized into OneState: a massive city-state that is sealed off from the rest of the world by the Green Wall (a glass wall which gets its name from the green foliage growing outside the city). In order to prevent such a destructive war from happening again, society is controlled by The Tables, a set of instructions for what people are supposed to do every minute of every day. The all-powerful Benefactor rules over OneState, and his word is law. All citizens are spied on by the Bureau of Guardians, OneState’s secret police. Privacy is dead, for every single building is made of glass. Individuality is dead; all citizens wear the same uniform and are known by numbers instead of names. Even sex is regulated; promiscuity is encouraged, but it can only happen once every several days. In other words, freedom as we know it is completely dead, and men have become machines. However, people seem to be completely happy with this new society.

1000 years after the 200-Years War, the starship Integral is being built so that OneState’s way of life could be spread to other worlds. D-503 is the main engineer of the Integral, and he begins a diary about life in OneState as part of a call to fill the Integral with propaganda about OneState. However, everything changes when she meets I-330, a woman who introduces ideas of individuality to him. This begins internal conflict in D-503, and when he goes to see a doctor, he learns that he has developed what used to be called a soul.

I don’t want to spoil the entire story in this review, so I’ll end my synopsis there. Suffice it to say, I believe that people should read this book. While there is no threat of our society turning into OneState, the book does warn against things that are relevant to us today:

1. We started the trend of dystopian stories warning against mass surveillance and the dangers that it poses.
2. It warns against placing control over all things into the hands of centralized power.
3. Most importantly of all, We warns of what happens when we surrender our individuality to the collective; whatever society advances as the greater good, it is not worth surrendering who you are.

-Scott

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Comments
  1. Sounds interesting and probably deserves more credit with the recent trend toward using this genre and these ideas. I think it’s important you started dialogue on a book that many modern bestsellers probably owe a lot to without even knowing. Good job!

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