weTitle: We.

Author: Yevgeny Zaamyatin.

Summary: The citizens of the One State live in a condition of ‘mathematically infallible happiness’. D-503 decides to keep a diary of his days working for the collective good in this clean, blue city state where nature, privacy and individual liberty have been eradicated. But over the course of his journal D-503 suddenly finds himself caught up in unthinkable and illegal activities – love and rebellion.

Banned on its publication in Russia in 1921, We is the first modern dystopian novel and a satire on state control that has once again become chillingly relevant.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I appreciate that this was one of the first dystopian, totalitarian novels ever written. I appreciate that it influenced Orwell and Huxley, and without it we may never have experienced Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World. But. But that doesn’t mean this is a good or well written book.

On the whole, i felt like i was reading it quickly just to get it over with. I could clearly see its (more than fundamental) parallels with Nineteen Eighty Four in particular. But i was constantly thinking, ‘Orwell did it better.’

Let’s start with something i liked: O-90. She was the most human character in the book, she had the most obvious emotions. I liked her. You would think, in a novel about a totalitarian future, which claims to master love, it would be dangerous for someone to be in it. From her first scene, it is clear that O-90 is in love with D-503, but she was not once looked down upon for it. This seemed like a huge oversight to me.

D-503 comes across as a character who is… weak and indecisive. I was trying to think of a nicer way to put it, but that sums it up too perfectly for me. He is weak and easily influenced. He falls “in love” with I-330, whom he knows nothing about. I would barely call what he feels lust, as they only have sex a handful of times, and this doesn’t seem to be what he craves. He is constantly torn between his duties to and belief in the One State and his feeling towards and requests from I-330. Understandable, perhaps, considering the environment he has been raised in, but still annoying to read, in this case. D-503 just frustrated me; i had no sympathy for him.

The reason D-503 is even writing this story, is in a effort to explain to possible aliens (thanks to the spaceship he has built) the perfection that is the One State. This narrative device fails, as far as i’m concerned. The chapters alternate between a straightforward story and fumbled apologies and attempts at explaining how the One State operates more clearly. It flip flopped between the two, and never really settled into a consistent flow.

Throughout the book D-503 is constantly toing and froing between his emotions and his logic, and really, it just got old very quickly. I wanted him to make his mind up and do something. His slow (slow) awakening that all may not be truly okay in the One State could have been an interesting journey to read about, but it just wasn’t. All the way to the end, he couldn’t decide what he wanted, what he believed. He couldn’t choose, and then that choice was taken away from him. And really, it was a relief to have his straighforward lack of drama back at the end, if only for two pages.

I only wanted to give We two stars, but tacked on an extra in respect of the fact that it was one of the first novels to deal with these themes, and was a huge influence in later—and better—dystopian novels.


About Wendleberry
I'm odd.

2 Responses to We

  1. mshannahw says:

    I enjoyed this review, mostly because it meant I feel at least a little informed about what seems to be an interesting-in-theory-and-important-but-dull-to-actually-read book, and now I don’t need to read it myself but know vaguely what it is about. Score!

    Also, off-topic, but I just nominated you for a Liebster award:

    • Wendleberry says:

      Sorry for the late reply (i suck at this blogging stuff).

      I want to say you should read the book anyway, but… nah. If you’ve read Nineteen Eighty Four, you’re covered. It deals with all the same concepts, but the writing and storytelling in We is so much weaker.

      I’d never even heard of a Leibster award! Thank you for nominating me… it’s not too late for me to do it, is it?

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