“We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin (it’s a blog)

July 16, 2012


I rant about this book a lot at work.

So when i saw a second hand copy in my local Oxfam I decided I’d better put my brain where my mouth is. So I bought it and read it again for the first time in, say, thirty years.

Written in 1920, surpressed and finally published in the Soviet Union in 1988, “We” is still an extraordinary (and I use the word extraordinary carefully) book.

“We” is the source for every science fiction dystopia of the last century. George Orwell read it and put it in an English setting for “1984”. “We” is better.

Zamyatin prophesises the totalitarian “One State”: the scenes where the great parade of human numbers is disrupted by protestors seemed achingly vivid and reminded me of Tienamen Square.

But even more striking is his style (translated by Bernard Gilbert Guerney in this 1972 edition). It’s a strange kind of cubist, pictoral prose which fits his tale perfectly. It’s also primitive, decadent and sometimes baffling. You’ll have to read it to see what I mean.

And (and this is the point about work) – it’s a blog. Short sections, diary format, chronologial order.

There’s even this:

“I was about to cross all that out, since it is outside the scope of this entry. But then I decided that I would not cross it out…”

The BBC is not a hive mind. It is not a totalitarian factory where everyone is known by a number not a name and does exactly the same thing as everyone else at exactly the same time. It is not a “We”.

At least now I will be able to wave this book around at people while I rant.


One Response to ““We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin (it’s a blog)”

  1. What a great book. Thanks for the recommendation. Picked up a copy and really enjoyed it. Much less dark and warmer than 1984 – less sinister though perhaps a society with even less room for independent thought!

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