[Book Review] We

We / Yevgeny Zamyatin

Several things drew me to We.  Comparison to 1984 is unavoidable, yet it predates it by several decades. A science fiction dystopia written in 1921 Russia that is still being read and discussed today seems like the type of foundation literature I should be familiar with.

The book is definitely an interesting read, pulling on themes we expect to see in any modern literary dystopia with investigation and discussion of what it means to be an individual.  It is also difficult to read, a short novel that makes use of uncomfortable descriptions and has passages that are undeniably racist.  What remains is to untangle what is relic of the environment in which the book was written, what is an aspect of the horror of the setting, and what is true bias of the author.  Philosophically interesting, but for me the discomfort rides heavy even if took minimal space in the text.

Discussion Fodder:
  • What aspects of this book are due to its dystopia setting, and what aspects are due to when and where it was written?
  • How are concepts similar or different?  In particular concepts of the beauty, rationality, logic, the soul, etc.
  • How reliable is the narrator?  Is he a metric of which we can measure the standard contentment of ciphers, or is he an abnormally content in his world of rational numbers?
  • What is the place and purpose of the arts in this story?  How does the formulaic structure of their music and poetry change the impact and role? 
  • How does the author talk about physicality?
  • The narrator describes a "past" while the author writes from approximately a century ago.  How do his descriptions match the world we live in, and how have things changed?

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