Okay, I have to admit it, I don't like book reviews.
I think I am a rare breed, once I decide I want to read a book I don't to know anything more about it. I won't read the back of the book, I won't read author interviews. If it has some of historical perspective introduction I will skip it. I love coming to a book with a blank canvas, with nothing but a world of surprises before me. I don't like knowing in chapter one what is going to happen in chapter three. If you know already, why do you need chapters one and two?
Once I have read a piece I am eager to explore the world of fiction. Find out the historical context, life of the author, inspiration for the work and books inspired by it.
For the past few weeks since I finished We I have been struggling with something that resembles a review. So far I only managed a haphazard look of the life of its author. I tried to take the essence of the biographies I had read and bumper sticker them down. But as I was doing it I kept asking myself, does any of this matter?
We (direct translations is My) is an amazing dystopic novel without any historical context. I think it is possible that understanding Stalin's Russia might distract from the story We had to tell. Where the combination of unity and mathematics unite in a utopic bliss. You are blissful because it has been mathematically equated. Like The Matrix, the result of many dystopic explorations are "ignorance is bliss."
What about you? Would you want to know the truth or would you want to be happy? One of the characters says to the narrator and main character, D-503, "Those two, in paradise were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness." These lines become this distillation of the book. My intellect thinks I want to know the truth. My emotions aren't so sure. On one hand, I always ask "Does it matter?" On the other, if I found this life to be falsified in some way would I wallow in the misery of the untruth? I tend to be obsessive especially about things that anger me that I cannot change. Knowing such a truth would be the perfect torture for me.
The setting for this novel is based on a world where everything is made of glass. There are no barriers and you can see what everyone is doing. You enter this world through the eyes of D-503. He is a unique choice from the modern perspective as a narrator because he is not searching for anything, he very contently blissful. Now for a few glimpses into the world he sees.
He comments that "...human heads are opaque, with only tiny windows in them - the eyes." In their extremely transparent world the opaqueness of the head is very worrisome to D-503 who takes much comfort in the life that was created for him.
I-330 comments to D-503 early in the books some of the propaganda utilized to create this world. She says, "...to be original is to be in some way distinct from others. Hence, to be original is to violate equality." Also in this early part of the novel there is much observation of her eye, these "windows" into her head.
And for a final glimpse into the world of We here is a short excerpt from the introduction written by Mirra Ginsburg. "Zamyatin called We 'my most jesting and most serious work.' And, thought it speaks on many levels and of many things, its political message is unmistakable. It is a warning, and a challenge, and a call to action. It is perhaps the fullest statement of Zamyatin's intellectual philosophy and emotional concerns."
Though ti has been many years since I read 1984 and Brave New World, I think I prefer their forbearer. I am very pleased to have discovered this work and am eager to place future works against it.
For in the beginning of Utopia there was Plato and Thomas More, and in the beginning of dystopia there was Zamyatin's We.
If I have left you wanting more click here.
Maybe the numbers were distracting for the first twenty pages or so but it wasn't long before I got used to them. Zamyatin does a great job of only naming a handful of characters and these characters are described extremely well, as if he was making a conscious effort to paint them in your mind. In fact if I were to have one complaint about the book it would be that the believability of D-503 is sometimes in question because of his impressive writing, which is much too creative for a mathematic, literal mind, or at least as literal as his mathematical mind. Also, D-503 mostly refers to the letter before their number, so that it really does feel quite a bit more like a name.