Wire – Read & Burn

More books from 2011.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Possibly the father-book of Brave New World, 1984, and Player Piano, We is a sci-fi wonder, a crystalline world where state-sponsored rocketry and state-sponsored sex go hand-in-hand. Told via D-503’s (the narrator) journal, the plot follows the emotional awakening of D-503 (who is in charge, in some capacity, of the construction of the Integral, the aforementioned state rocket that will carry their culture into space) and his falling in love with a woman who foments a new revolution within the One State, the totalitarian regime under which they live. There is a surprising amount of very bleak humor in this book, and some scenes that, depending on how you might imagine them, could be either grim drama or hilarious slapstick (better to go with the latter, it’s a satire, after all). Lots of math and number theory woven seamlessly into the narrative, which makes sense, given the narrator’s profession. There are a lot of sci-fi books that–at least to me–focus on the world-making to the detriment of the characters, but D-503 and his friends are so vivid, heartbreakingly so at some points, that it sometimes becomes easy to get lost in the human drama of the love triangle(s), and you forget that the story takes place inside a city made of glass. The only Soviet futurist noir I’ve encountered, and it’s an amazing book. Breathtaking passages on freedom, jealousy, regret, nostalgia. Better and more thoughtful than almost all recent instances of dystopic/post-apocalyptic literary fiction.

There are a number of translations, and the one I read (which is old, but, as I just discovered, because it’s old, it’s online as a PDF), by Gregory Zilboorg, the first English translator of We, was less clumsy when compared to at least one of the newer ones (Mirra Ginsburg’s).

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