We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Published 1993 by Penguin. Science Fiction. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Russian.
We is one of those books I'd been wanting to read for years but never quite got around to, so it seemed like the perfect choice for a reading challenge. It's a dystopian novel, one of the first of the genre and an important influence on later dystopian works like George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
A criticism of Communist Russia and an important work in the canon of Russian science fiction, the resemblance to 1984 in particular is striking; like 1984, We takes place in a homogenized totalitarian society where people are raised to think of themselves as mere cogs in the machine, units as opposed to individuals- tools of the One State. Instead of names, people have numbers. This One State is established some time in the far future, after war has all but annihilated human society. The remnants of humanity form the basis of this tightly controlled society where everything from rising and sleeping to sexual activity and the chewing of food is rigidly scheduled and monitored, people live in glass houses and "vote" for their dictator, the Benefactor, on the aptly named Unanimity Day.
The protagonist, a number called D-503, is a mathematician and true believer in the One State. He finds himself gradually losing his grip after falling passionately in love with another number, I-330, who is involved with a resistance group seeking to demolish the One State. He begins the book as a testament to the greatness of the One State but the book instead becomes a testament of his increasing confusion and inner conflict. His story, like that of Orwell's Winston, does not end well, though there may be hope for others.
Books like We remind me why I love great literature. More than a mere page-turner, it's a challenging, beautifully constructed and stunning work. It's a diary and a record of inner turmoil, so sometimes it's a little hard to follow but his changing moods and slowly decaying sanity are rendered convincingly. I could feel his loosening grip on himself, his confidence and control petering out slowly, entry by entry. The other characters, especially his beloved I-330 and his lover O-90, are vividly constructed individuals and the plot moves along swiftly to its inevitable conclusion. I wish all books could be like this!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.