“Written in 1921, We is set in the One State, where all live for the collective good and individual freedom does not exist. The novel takes the form of the diary of mathematician D-503, who, to his shock, experiences the most disruptive emotion imaginable: love.”
On the front cover:
“A new translation…”
Ordinarily I would not even pick up a book written in 1921 translated from its original Russian, but it was recommended by a friend. That was not enough though until I was told that Ayn Rand was influenced by this book. After finishing the novel, I have to admit that I did not really see the influence in Rand’s work although there were some common threads.
Although what first struck me was the similarity to George Orwell’s novel 1984. I had recently reread 1984 and this novel, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin and translated by Natasha Randall, felt like the same story until I got deeper into the book. Big Brother is not as prominent.
I was surprised at how hard I was pulled into the events happening to D-503. My thoughts raced ahead as I tried to predict what would happen to the mathematician. As I neared the end of the book, I found myself doing what I do when I have a very suspenseful novel…reserving time to finish uninterrupted. It was time well spent.
Yamyatin referred often to “us” and called us the “ancients.” We were thought to be a particularly unwise group of people who believed “that sorry cellular mentality…’My home is my castle’ they really should have thought that through.” The One State being far superior as the people lived in glass apartments where they could be monitored.
This passage, however, seemed Rand-like:
“Freedom and crime are indissolubly connected to each other, like…well, like the movement of the aero and its velocity. When the velocity of the aero = 0, it doesn’t move, when the freedom of a person = 0, he doesn’t commit crime. This is clear. The sole means of ridding man of crime is to rid him of freedom.”
I found this passage quite striking as D-503’s world is coming apart. Everything he knows to be true may not be so. Facts and information are rushing toward him as he tries to take them in and write down his thoughts…
“Everything is new, new, new – a sort of downpour of events – and one of me is not enough to collect it all. I am stretching out the flaps of my unif [uniform] and cupping my hands and yet whole bucketfuls still flow past me, and only drops end up on these pages.”