Review of ‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Before Nineteen Eighty-Four, before Brave New World, there was We, one of the first dystopian science fiction novels. It was published in 1924 as an English edition but it wasn’t until 1988 that the novel was published in the author’s native Soviet Union.

Set in the totalitarian OneState, the book is narrated by D-503, a mathematician working on a space rocket. All citizens are encouraged to write material to send up on the rocket, to enlighten extra-terrestrials about the ideal way of life enforced by the state. D-503 writes a diary for this purpose, in which he records his experiences and the gradual awakening of his revolutionary spirit. Everything kicks off when he meets a vibrant woman, I-330, whose love of freedom both excites and horrifies him.

There are many interesting things about this novel. The way in which the protagonist sees everything in terms of shapes and mathematical problems. His preoccupation with racial characteristics and his worry that he might be a savage (i.e. like his ‘ancestors’ – us). The repeated images of clear blue sky and glass walls to represent the predictability and lack of privacy which characterise life under OneState. The idea that, just as numbers are infinite, so are the possibilities of revolutions. I find the writing style gripping and easy to read, often addressed to ‘you’, the reader. I don’t know how much of the style and language can be credited to the translator Clarence Brown, but I’m assuming he did a great job with the material. The Penguin edition was first published in 1993.

Highly recommended if you want to read a dystopian classic which will make you think. This was my third time reading it.

8 thoughts on “Review of ‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin”

  1. I’ve recently re-read 1984 and the edition I read had an interesting Afterword section, where “1984” was compared to other 2 dystopian stories – “We” by Yevgeny Zamyantin and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. After reading the Afterword I got interested in reading “We” (I read “Brave New World” some time ago), and now reading you review on the same topic made me even more curious!

    1. Oh yes, you must read ‘We’ now 🙂 It’s like a blend of 1984 and Brave New World, before those novels existed! It’s also quite a short book and easy to read, so very much a page turner. I hope you enjoy when you get round to reading it 😀

    1. I think it definitely deserves to be more widely known! One of those books I will re-read every few years.

  2. I read We earlier this year (or maybe last year) after hearing it so often compared to 1984 and A Brave New World. It is so amazing, and it’s really sad that you so rarely hear about it when the other two books are so popular. Thank you for a great review! I love seeing lesser known classics reviewed.

    1. I know, I wish it were better known about too! I expect that its issues with distribution/censorship in the early days was an obstacle and sadly some readers are not keen on reading translated fiction either. Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the review 🙂

  3. I haven’t heard of We until now! Thank you for sharing, NS! –> “sees everything in terms of shapes and mathematical problems” <– this intrigued me. I wanna read this! What a great review, my friend!

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