If You Like: The Communist Manifesto, 1984, Brave New World, Ayn Rand, futuristic dystopias… Read This: “We”

Most books are reviewed soon after their publications. This review, however, is about eighty-four years late. The reason I am reviewing “We,” a severe commentary indirectly about the Communist regime of the early twentieth century, is because it seems the book has yet to receive its credit for its influence on literature and public sentiment. The book’s setting transports the reader into a world of futuristic landscapes and miserable, absolute government control—a style and idea not previously touched on by literature at the time. Those who have read such literary favorites as Orwell’s “1984,” Huxley’s “Brave New World” or Rand’s “Anthem” have also been, albeit indirectly, exposed to “We.” The Soviet Censorship Bureau quickly banned “We,” first published in 1921, until 1988. Zamyatin, the book’s author, worked hard to ensure that the book was published in other countries and in other languages. Doing this only exacerbated his political situation, and eventually all of Zamyatin’s works were rejected and he was forbidden to write. “We” is the fictional journal of D-503, a citizen of the One State and worker on the spaceship Integral. In a journal chronicling his emotions and experiences, D-503 describes in detail the city in which he lives. In the One State, people do not have names, only numbers, and they live in glass apartment complexes so as not to create walls of privacy. Every moment of the citizens’ lives is in strict accordance with The Table, a schedule that controls the lives of all the people. Each number, or citizen, wakes, eats, works and goes to sleep at the same time as the others. D-503 is an exemplary number of the One State, always patriotic. He never ceases to follow the laws of the Benefactor, the ruler who is “re-elected” each year on Unanimity Day. D-503 lives his life with mathematical precision and never uses his imagination. This frankly miserable existence continues until he meets I-330, a female number who D-503 is immediately infatuated with. D-503 becomes torn between his love for I-330 and his love for the One State, which she intends to sabotage. Unfortunately, this poor man has become so deeply rooted in mathematics that the only way he is able to describe his inner struggle is to compare it to the square root of negative one—the answer to which is an imaginary number. By the end of the novel, D-503 has driven himself insane and as a result is finally taken in for the Great Operation to eliminate the imagination part of the brain. Just as D-503 deteriorates, so does the One State. “We” explores the ideas of dystopia, the harmful nature of mathematical thinking, the collectivized man and many others that challenged the Communist regime under which Zamyatin lived. All of these elements together form a wonderful tapestry of ideas, philosophy and paradoxes, all bound together by some of the most beautiful prose ever written. I simply cannot comprehend why such a profound and wonderful book has gone unnoticed by our generation. “We” is not common on many Top 100 lists, and there has not been any movie adaptation. In fact, simply in order to read it, I had to search through multiple libraries and five stores before snagging the last copy at the Harvard Bookstore. Believe me, though; the search was well worth the trouble. I would urge anyone who is at all interested in political theory, literature or dystopia to give this seemingly unnoticed book a little concentrated attention. Grade: 5+