Genre: dystopia, classic
Read: 25th March 2017
Reading challenge: 1001-books
WE tells the story of the minutely organized United State, where all citizens are not individuals but only he-Numbers and she-Numbers existing in identical glass apartments with every action regulated by the “Table of Hours.” It is a community dedicated to the proposition that freedom and happiness are incompatible; that most men believe their freedom to be more than a fair exchange for a high level of materialistic happiness.
WE is recognized as the inspiration for George Orwell’s famous 1984, and wasn’t published in Russia until 1988 due to official censorship. It is generally regarded as a classic Utopian novel and an historic landmark in Soviet literature.
The novel is fascinating, but the writing style mimicks the fractured mental state of the protagonist, so sometimes you need to take a little more time to ponder the individual sentences and scenes to fully grasp what he means to tell us. This can become somewhat exhausting, and it certainly isn’t something I particularly enjoy, but the overall effect is ingenious.
I like the nightmarish landscape we are confronted with – transparent houses and objects, almost no privacy, no individualism at all, constant indoctrination, etc. Then there’s the characters – the rebels, especially I-330, who almost cruelly plunges our hero into this mealstrom of confusion, manipulates him for her own ends, and never seems to take time to explain her grand revolution to him. I was a mite ticked off by that, so it did not surprise me D-503 ultimately betrayed her. He could hardly think straight, unaccustomed to heavy emotions she inspired in him, so she definitely shot herself in the foot with her plan. I guess she forgot she’s dealing with a human being, not a complete automaton the One State wanted him to turn into.
There’s also several funny scenes in the book, especially in the beginning, when D’s naivete is laid out to us in its full glory. The logical poetry about mathematics and industry, scheduled personal time, Taylorism… Sometimes you just can’t believe the banality of total control – it’s so oppressive that it turns ridiculous. But one thing isn’t exactly answered, but which Orwell does in his 1984 – who exactly controls this society and takes care things don’t change? Yes, we have a Benefactor and Guardians, but they aren’t explored in detail, which is a shame.
The absolute highlight for me is D’s visit at the doctor’s and the diagnosis! “You’re in bad shape. It looks like you’re developing a soul.” OMG, I thought I was going to burst out in laughter. And yet it tells you exactly how strongly the civilization has derailed. Of course the brilliant minds develop a way to ‘cure’ people of imagionation, the root of all evil an deviant behavior.
In a nutshell: it’s a worthy read, even if you only want to explore how strongly Zamyatin inspired the more well-known George Orwell.