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This digital edition of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is formatted for proper display and checked for typos.
In 1921, We became the first work banned by the Soviet censorship board. Ultimately, Yevgeny Zamyatin arranged for We to be smuggled to the West for publication. The subsequent outrage this sparked within the Party and the Union of Soviet Writers led directly to Zamyatin's successful request for exile from his homeland.
We is set in a glass city of the future, where secret police and spies inform on and supervise the public with ease. Here life is organized to promote maximum productive efficiency and monolithic conformity; people march in step with each other and wear identical clothing. There is no way of referring to people except their given numbers. Males have odd numbers prefixed by consonants; females have even numbers prefixed by vowels. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the ‘norms’ of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.
Yevgeny Zamyatin was a Russian author of science fiction and political satire. We was his most prominent work. Despite having been a prominent Old Bolshevik, Zamyatin was deeply disturbed by the policies pursued by the CPSU following the October Revolution. Due to his use of literature to criticize Soviet society, Zamyatin has been referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents.
First published in the Soviet 1920s, Zamyatin's dystopic novel left an indelible watermark on 20th-century culture, from Orwell's 1984 to Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil. Randall's exciting new translation strips away the Cold War connotations and makes us conscious of Zamyatin's other influences, from Dostoyevski to German expressionism. D-503 is a loyal "cipher" of the totalitarian One State, literally walled in by glass; he is a mathematician happily building the world's first rocket, but his life is changed by meeting I-330, a woman with "sharp teeth" who keeps emerging out of a sudden vampirish dusk to smile wickedly on the poor narrator and drive him wild with desire. (When she first forces him to drink alcohol, the mind leaps to Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.) In becoming a slave to love, D-503 becomes, briefly, a free man. In Randall's hands, Zamyatin's modernist idiom crackles ("I only remember his fingers: they flew out of his sleeve, like bundles of beams"), though the novel sometimes seems prophetic of the onset of Stalinism, particularly in the bleak ending. Modern Library's reintroduction of Zamyatin's novel is a literary event sure to bring this neglected classic to the attention of a new readership. (On sale July 11)