REVIEW: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Never before have I read a book that’s made me think so hard. And that’s saying something. Most dystopian novels give us food for thought on our societies – I should know, I did a 3000 word essay on that topic alone – but this masterpiece forced me to stop and think.

The inspiration behind Orwell’s 1984 (just to let you know, I’ll be banging on about 1984 quite a lot), We was first published in Russia in 1988 after being suppressed for over sixty years – that alone tells you that this novel has something really, really important to say. It has all the now ‘standard’ aspects of a dystopian novel – numbers as a classification system for humans, an omnipotent, godly figurehead, rejection of ancient culture – but
intertwining with the description of OneState is a fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking, storyline.

In the form of a series of records destined for a vessel named the INTEGRAL, We documents the story of its builder, D-503, who fights a battle between the power of OneState, and his own soul. There’s what you would expect from this type of book – a femme fatale (or is she), another love (if you could classify it as that) interest, and the overbearing fist of society (but what is society) – but also some blimey-let-me-read-that-passage-again moments. Seriously, this novel is not for the faint-headed. From the downright mystifying analogies (you know those moments; spending at least five minutes staring blankly at a page deciphering weirdly structured sentences) to the weird philosophical woah epiphanies, there’s plenty of material that’ll guarantee a slight headache. I’ve read my fair share of dystopian novels – Brave New World and 1984 obviously being my favourites – but I haven’t read any quite like this. I’m not saying that the two aforementioned pieces aren’t as good, but there’s just a vibe in We which really hit me. Maybe it was the indirect questions; what are we? What am I? What’s a soul? Why the hell is this book affecting my life like this?

Unusually, this book took me yonks to finish. Although my edition is only 225 pages, it took me a little over two weeks to read – this was partly due to the fact that I lose all bookmarks and refuse to dog-ear pages, therefore kept re-reading certain records. I think that reading this slowly is the best approach; if you race through it, you’re going to just get confused, as well as ignore all the vital pieces of soul-searching material that are sneakily hidden away. Trust me; take it slow and steady.

What is it that people beg for, dream about, torment themselves for, from the time they leave swaddling-clothes? They want someone to tell them, once and for all, what happiness is – and then bind them to that happiness with a chain. What is it  we’re doing right now, if not that? The ancient dream of paradise… Remember: In paradise they’ve lost all knowledge of desires, pity, love – they are the blessed, with their imaginations surgically removed…  Record 36, We

I would most definitely give this five stars out of five; I only wish that I’d read it sooner. And that I was strong enough to not cry at the ending. Which I did. IT WAS PAINFUL, OKAY? Most certainly a workout for the brain.

I bought my edition at Waterstones for £8.99.


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