Friday, 6 May 2011

Foreign Language Friday: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Dear Blog,
note: This review is going to have to be way too short and undeserving of such an awesome book. Sorry.

Original Title:  It was originally published in English, then in Czech, but the Russian is Мы/Miy.
Original Language: ^^
Translated by: Natasha Randall
Summary (from Amazon UK): In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful ‘Benefactor’, the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity – until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul. Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, We is the classic dystopian novel and was the inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984. It was suppressed for many years in Russia and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom, yet is also a powerful, exciting and vivid work of science fiction.

Review: So unless you have been hiding in a cave, or the nonfiction section of your library, you are probably away that dystopian fiction in young adult literature is like the new paranormal vampire-werewolf-fallen-angel thing.  With reason.  We fear the unknown, but at the same time it's something entirely, morbidly fascinating.  But recently I've been kind of tired of that, and all these apocalypses have blended into one.  However, the one dystopian novel I've still wanted to read for a long time is We.
  We is like the grandfather of the dystopic, but totally gets the short end of the stick because so many people have read Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, and seem to believe that's where things got startedI haven't read either of those yet, so I shouldn't say that We is the most influential book in the genre or anything, because I wouldn't really know. 

It's both at the same time fantastically forward-thinking from something of its time and gloriously kitsch.  It reminds me a lot of the film Metropolis in that respect.  You've got to admire Zamyatin for constructing what was then such a groundbreaking world, which was apparently supposed to be relevant to the political regime in Russia at the time, so it was pretty controversial too.  There's some interesting foresight- id est, Zamyatin foresaw electric toothbrushes.  Yes, ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSHES.  Therefore Zamyatin wins. 
The book is only about 200 pages or so, but it's surprisingly hard to get through.  The writing style is very, very strange.  It's almost dream-like in a way, and in some parts it seems almost hysterical, and then because of that kind of vagueness, the perception of things feels kind of skewed and unclear.   It's pretty fragmented, as well, and seems to jump around a lot.  This can be kind of irritating if there's some particularly interesting scene, or thought,  and then suddenly the subject changes. 

D-503 was, in a word...a strange character.  The emotional journey he went through in the book was pretty similar to that of the characters in other dystopic novels I've read; at the beginning of the book his belief in his society is totally unwavering and almost darkly amusing, but then he falls and love with someone who doesn't buy into the society, and is then entirely confused.  But I think the way that confusion of feeling love, that emotion which D-503 had never really encountered before, was fantastically portrayed. 

I-330 was a pretty interesting character; I wish there had been more to her, or that there had been a better picture of her personality, if such a thing exists in the One State.  I knew she was supposed to be mysterious and beautiful and intelligent; that was it.  There was so much focus on the emotion, and the scenario, and the confusion when the two collided, that things like descriptions seemed almost disregarded.    I quite liked O, too, bit in a pitying sort of way. I think she meant well, but in the entirely unindividual manner of the One State, and hence when D-503 was presented with the Exciting World Outside the state, he had to kind of abandon her.  Their relationship was pretty interesting, too; were they in love? Weren't they?  They would get together for the designated hour in which they could lower the blinds in their glass houses know... anyway, good on her for appearing now and again to try and get D-503 back, even though it was pretty futile.

So, I'm glad I read it.  Though it isn't entirely flawless, you have to admit it is pretty damn awesome for being so subtly influential.

In three words: under-rated, clever, convincing.
Recommended for: all fans of science fiction. 
Rating: 3.5. 

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