Review: Zamyatin, “We”


Yevgeny Zamyatin, “We” (1921) (translated from the Russian by Mirra Ginsburg) –

The three classic dystopias (We, Brave New World, 1984) all have such heavy overlays of Cold War literary politics and adolescent associations with them that it can be hard to look at them on their own merits. “We,” being the oldest and comparatively obscure, suffers the least from this. It’s also more daring, in an almost devil-may-care sense- characters with numbers instead of names, set a thousand years on the future rather than decades or centuries after. Much of the time, it pays off- the city of glass the “numbers” live in is compellingly envisioned, and the bog-standard “liberation through horniness” dystopian plot has more verve to it than most. Sometimes it doesn’t- Zamyatin still leans heavily on “notice how different this is from The Ancients” and sometimes the stylized, futurist-inspired writing style can be confusing. But plot is seldom the point of these dystopias. Less tightly tied to one or another agenda than Huxley’s or Orwell’s comparable work, “We” arguably stands up a bit better when unmoored from the Cold War context that first brought it to Anglophone attentions. ****

Review: Zamyatin, “We”

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