We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are the most famous novels in the dystopian genre. However, both novels were inspired by a 1921 Russian novel, We, by mathematician Yevgeny Zamyatin. Although Zamyatin belonged to the Bolshevik party, he soon became a bitter critic of Soviet oppression. We is a satire of Soviet totalitarianism and was the first novel to be banned in the Soviet Union. After angering Soviet authorities by smuggling We to the West, Zamyatin requested exile, which Stalin granted. We wasn’t published in Russia until 1988.
We depicts a society that emphasizes uniformity in all aspects of life. Citizens, called numbers, live in glass apartment buildings and go about their daily routine in accordance with timetables that choreograph their movements. They are permitted some private time and can draw curtains for privacy. Amorous visits require paperwork to be given to a clerk assigned to each building. Nature exists entirely outside the glass walls of the State, as do “primitive” humans with “fur.” We focuses on the experiences of D-503, the chief builder and engineer of a soon-to-be launched spaceship intended to introduce races on other planets to the glorious ways of the One State. Though he considers himself to be a loyal citizen, he falls in with a group of rebels who want to sabotage the spaceship and destroy the State.
The novel is challenging to read. It’s narrated by D-503 and takes the form of a journal intended to be read by alien races. However, D-503 becomes psychologically fractured as he tries to maintain his identity as a loyal citizen while falling in love with the mysterious I-330, one of the rebels. Moreover, We's prose is often lyrical and uses mathematical concepts poetically.
The Dutton paperback version of We is available here as a free PDF.