In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier-and whatever alien species are to be found there-will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.
One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery-or rediscovery-of inner spaceand that disease the ancients called the soul.
A page-turning SF adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. Its message of hope and warning is as timely at the end of the twentieth century as it was at the beginning.
"we is one of the great novels of the twentieth century."( Irving Howe)
"One of the best!"( New York Review of Books)
"As the first major anti-utopian fantasyhas its own peculiar wryness and grace, sharper than the pamphleteering of 1984 or thephilosophical scheme of Brave New World, its celebrated descendants."( Kirkus Reviews)
"Fantastic."( The New York Times)
About the Author
Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884–1937) was a Russian author of political satire. Arrested during the 1905 revolution, he was exiled twice from St. Petersburg before receiving amnesty in 1913. After Zamyatin completed We, his only novel, in 1921, it was attacked by party-line critics, including the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. Unable to publish his work, Zamyatin was granted permission to leave Russia with his wife in 1931. They moved to Paris, where he died in 1937.
Natasha Randall is a translator and writer living in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg Times, The Strad magazine, and on National Public Radio.
Read an Excerpt
A Declaration. The Wisest of Lines. A Poem.
I am merely copying, word for word, what was printed in the State Gazette today:
In 120 days, the construction of the Integral will be complete. The great, historic hour when the Integral will soar through the Earth’s atmosphere is nigh. Some thousand years ago, your heroic ancestors subjugated the Earth to the power of the One State. Today, you are confronting an even greater conquest: the integration of the infinite equation of the universe with the crystalline, electrified, and fire-breathing Integral. You are confronting unknown creatures on alien planets, who may still be living in the savage state of freedom, and subjugating them to the beneficial yoke of reason. If they won’t understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to force them to be happy. But before resorting to arms, we will employ words.
In the name of the Benefactor, let it be known to all ciphers of the One State:
All those who are able are required to create treatises, poems, manifestos, odes, or any other composition addressing the beauty and majesty of the One State.
These works will compose the first cargo of the Integral.
All hail the One State, all hail ciphers, all hail the Benefactor!
As I write this, I feel something: my cheeks are burning. Integrating the grand equation of the universe: yes. Taming a wild zigzag along a tangent, toward the asymptote, into a straight line: yes. You see, the line of the One State—it is a straight line. A great, divine, precise, wise, straight line—the wisest of lines.
I am D-503. I am the Builder of the Integral. I am only one of the mathematicians of the One State. My pen, more accustomed to mathematical figures, is not up to the task of creating the music of unison and rhyme. But I might as well attempt to record what I see, what I think—or, more exactly, what we think. (Yes, that’s right: we. And let that also be the title of these records: We.) So these records will be manufactured from the stuff of our life, from the mathematically perfect life of the One State, and, as such, might they become, inadvertently, regardless of my intentions, a poem? Yes—I believe so and I know so.
As I write this: I feel my cheeks burn. I suppose this resembles what a woman experiences when she first hears a new pulse within her—the pulse of a tiny, unseeing, mini-being. These records are me; and simultaneously not me. And they will feed for many months on my sap, my blood, and then, in anguish, they will be ripped from my self and placed at the foot of the One State.
But I am ready and willing, just as every one—or almost every one of us. I am ready.
Ballet. Quadratic Harmony. X.
Spring. From beyond the Green Wall, from the wild, invisible plains, the wind brings the yellow honey-dust from a flower of some kind. This sweet dust parches the lips—you skim your tongue across them every minute—and you presume that there are sweet lips on every woman you encounter (and man, of course). This somewhat interferes with logical reasoning.
But then, the sky! Blue, untainted by a single cloud (the Ancients had such barbarous tastes given that their poets could have been inspired by such stupid, sloppy, silly-lingering clumps of vapor). I love—and I’m certain that I’m not mistaken if I say we love—skies like this, sterile and flawless!
On days like these, the whole world is blown from the same shatterproof, everlasting glass as the glass of the Green Wall and of all our structures. On days like these, you can see to the very blue depths of things, to their unknown surfaces, those marvelous expressions of mathematical equality—which exist in even the most usual and everyday objects.
For instance, this morning I was at the hangar, where the Integral is being built, and suddenly: I noticed the machines. Eyes shut, oblivious, the spheres of the regulators were spinning; the cranks were twinkling, dipping to the right and to the left; the shoulders of the balance wheel were rocking proudly; and the cutting head of the perforating machine curtsied, keeping time with some inaudible music. Instantly I saw the greater beauty of this grand mechanized ballet, suffused with nimble pale-blue sunbeams.
And then I thought to myself: why? Is this beautiful? Why is this dance beautiful? The answer: because it is non-free movement, because the whole profound point of this dance lies precisely in its absolute, aesthetic subordination, its perfect non-freedom. If indeed our ancestors were prone to dancing at the most inspired moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades), then all this can only mean one thing: the instinct for non-freedom, from the earliest of times, is inherently characteristic of humankind, and we, in our very contemporary life, are simply more conscious . . .
To be continued: the intercom is clicking. I lift my eyes: it reads “O-90,” of course. And, in half a minute, she herself will be here to collect me: we are scheduled for a walk.
Sweet O! It has always seemed to me that she looks like her name: she is about ten centimeters below the Maternal Norm, which makes her lines all rounded, and a pink O—her mouth—is open to receive my every word. Also: there are round, chubby creases around her wrists—such as you see on the wrists of children.
When she entered, I was still buzzing inside out with the fly-wheel of logic and, through inertia, I started to utter some words about this formula I had only just resolved (which justified all of us, the machines and the dance): “Stunning, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, the spring, it is stunning . . .” O-90 smiled pinkly.
Wouldn’t you know it: spring . . . I say “stunning” and she thinks of spring. Women . . . I fell silent.
Downstairs. The avenue is crowded: we normally use the Personal Hour after lunch for extra walking when the weather is like this. As usual, the Music Factory was singing the March of the One State with all its pipes. All ciphers walked in measured rows, by fours, rapturously keeping step. Hundreds and thousands of ciphers, in pale bluish unifs,* with gold badges on their chests, indicating the state-given digits of each male and female. And I—we, our foursome—was one of the countless waves of this mighty torrent. On my left was O-90 (a thousand years ago, our hairy forebears most probably would have written that funny word “my” when referring to her just now); on my right were two rather unfamiliar ciphers, a female and a male.
The blessed-blue sky, the tiny baby suns on each badge, faces unclouded by the folly of thought . . . All these were rays, you see—all made of some sort of unified, radiant, smiling matter. And a brass beat: Tra-ta-ta-tam, Tra-ta-ta-tam—like sun-sparkling brass stairs—and with each step up, you climb higher and higher into the head-spinning blueness . . .
And here, like this morning in the hangar, I saw it all as though for the very first time: the immutably straight lanes, the ray- spraying glass of the streets, the divine parallelepipeds of the transparent buildings, and the quadratic harmony of the gray-blue ranks. And: it was as if I—not whole generations past—had personally, myself, conquered the old God and the old life. As if I personally had created all this. And I was like a tower, not daring to move even an elbow, for fear of chipping fragments off of walls, cupolas, machines . . .
And then, in an instant: a hop across centuries from 1 to 2. I was reminded—obviously, it was association by contrast—I was suddenly reminded of a painting in the museum depicting their olden day, twentieth-century avenue in deafening multicolor: a jumbled crush of people, wheels, animals, posters, trees, paint, birds . . . And do you know, they say that it was actually like that—that it’s actually possible. I found that so improbable, so ludicrous, that I couldn’t contain myself and laughed out loud.
And then there was an echo—a laugh—coming from the right. I spun around: the white—unusually white—and sharp teeth of an unfamiliar female face were before my eyes, before me.
* This word is probably derived from the ancient word Uniforme.
“Forgive me,” she said, “but you were observing your surround-ings with such an inspired look—like some mythical God on the seventh day of creation. It looked as though you actually believed that you, yourself, had created everything—even me! I’m very flattered . . .”
All this was said without smiling, and I’d even go as far as to say that there was a certain reverence (maybe she was aware that I am the Builder of the Integral). And I don’t know—perhaps it was somewhere in her eyes or eyebrows—there was a kind of strange and irritating X to her, and I couldn’t pin it down, couldn’t give it any numerical expression.
For some reason, I became embarrassed and, fumbling, began to justify my laughter to her with logic. It was perfectly clear, I was saying, that the contrast, the impassable chasm, that lies between today and yesterday . . .
“But why on earth impassable?” What white teeth! “Across the chasm—throw up a bridge! Just imagine it for yourself: the drums, the battalions, the ranks—these were all things that existed back then too. And consequently . . .”
“Well, yes, it’s clear!” I cried (it was an astonishing intersection of thoughts: she was using almost exactly my words—the ones I had been writing just before this Walk). “You see, even in our thoughts. No one is ever ‘one,’ but always ‘one of.’ We are so identical . . .”
Her words: “Are you sure?”
I saw those jerked-up eyebrows forming sharp angles toward her temples—like the sharp horns of an X—and again, somehow, got confused. I glanced right, then left and . . .
She was on my right: thin, sharp, stubbornly supple, like a whip (I can now see her digits are I-330). On my left was O-90, totally different, made of circumferences, with that childlike little crease on her arm; and at the far right of our foursome was an unfamiliar male cipher, sort of twice-bent, a bit like the letter “S.” We were all different . . .
This I-330 woman, on my right, had apparently intercepted my confused glance and with an exhale: “Yes . . . Alas!”
In essence, her “alas” was absolutely fitting. But again, there was something about her face, or her voice . . .
I—with uncharacteristic abruptness—said: “Nothing alas about it. Science progresses, and it’s clear that given another fifty, a hundred years . . .”
“Even everyone’s noses will be . . .”
“Yes, noses,” I was now almost screaming. “If, after all, there is any good reason for enviousness . . . like the fact that I might have a nose like a button and some other cipher might have . . .”
“Well, actually, your nose, if you don’t mind me saying, is quite ‘classical,’ as they would say in the olden days. And look, your hands . . . show, come on, show me your hands!”
I cannot stand it when people look at my hands, all hairy and shaggy—such stupid atavistic appendages. I extended my arms and with as steady a voice as I could, I said: “Monkey hands.”
She looked at my hands and then at my face: “Yes, they strike a very curious chord.” She sized me up with eyes like a set of scales, the horns at the corners of her eyebrows glinting again.
“He is registered to me today,” O-90 rosily-joyfully opened her mouth.
It would have been better to have stayed quiet—this was absolutely irrelevant. Altogether, this sweet O person . . . how can I express this . . . She has an incorrectly calculated speed of tongue. The microspeed of the tongue ought to be always slightly less than the microspeed of the thoughts and certainly not ever the reverse.
At the end of the avenue, the bell at the top of the Accumulator Tower resoundingly struck 17:00. The Personal Hour was over. I-330 was stepping away with that S-like male cipher. He commanded a certain respect and, now I see, he had a possibly familiar face. I must have met him somewhere—but right now I can’t think where.
As I-330 departed, she smiled with that same X-ishness. “Come by Auditorium 112 the day after tomorrow.”
I shrugged my shoulders: “If I am given instructions to go to the particular auditorium you mention, then . . .”
With inexplicable conviction, she said: “You will.”
The effect of that woman on me was as unpleasant as a displaced irrational number that has accidentally crept into an equation. And I was glad that, even if only for a short while, I was alone again with sweet O.
Arm in arm, we walked across four avenue blocks. On the corner, she would go to the right and I to the left.
“I would so like to come to you today and lower the blinds. Particularly today, now . . .” O shyly lifted her blue-crystal eyes to me.
You funny thing. Well, what could I say to her? She came over only yesterday and knows as well as I do that our next Sex Day is the day after tomorrow. This was simply that same “pre-ignition of thought” as sometimes happens (sometimes harmfully) when a spark is issued prematurely in an engine.
Before parting, I twice . . . no, I’ll be exact: I kissed her marvelous, blue, untainted-by-a-single-cloud eyes three times.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Zamyatin and the Rooster
Notes to Introduction
Suggestions for Further Reading
WE Record 1
The Wisest of Lines
An Epic Poem
Savage with Barometer
Rulers of the World
Pleasant and Useful Function
Henbane and Lily of the Valley
The Irrational Root
Iambs and Trochees
No, I Can't...
Skip the Contents
Limitation of Infinity
Reflections on Poetry
An Absolutely Inane Occurrence
My Fate to Burn Forever
Wounds and Plaster
A Sullen Glare
Over the Parapet
An Author's Duty
The Most Difficult Love
Everything Tends to Perfection
I Am a Microbe
Dissolution of a Crystal
Limit of Function
Cross It All Out
Descent from Heaven
History's Greatest Catastrophe
End of the Known
The World Exists
No Contents - Can't
Entropy and Energy
Opaque Part of the Body
Threads on the Face
The Final Number
Wouldn't It Be Better?
The Great Operation
I Have Forgiven Everything
A Train Wreck
I Do Not Believe
The Human Chip
(No Time for Contents, Last Note)
Those on Leave
A Sunny Night
In a Hoop
The Christian God
About My Mother
(I Don't Know What Goes Here, Maybe Just: A Cigarette Butt)
I Am Certain
What People are Saying About This
"One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century." -Irving Howe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Like a refreshing breath of air, I chanced upon We as I was drowning in all the trashy sci-fi that has been filling shelves as of late. To say it simply, We is the best science fiction novel I have ever read (and I have read my fair share). It has, in its 203 pages, a story of a simple man who worships his government with a wild abandon, until the day when he contracts an awful and uniquely human condition. We is a prime, perhaps the greatest, example of a Dystopian novel: it in many ways sets the groundwork for ALL dystopian stories to come. In it we read elements of famous books to come, such as Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. But. but there is something more, different, indescribable about We that Zamyatin could never have planned: a magic that resides in between the words. That being said, We is also one of the most exclusionary books I have read as well. While I fully believe that this book has never achieved the popularity and success that it should have, shared by 1984 and Brave New World, I can truly understand why: We is written as the journal of a mathematical genius, and his view of nature as "some big equation, yet to be solved" leaks heavily into his journal entries and this, coupled with his conflicting ideas about himself and his surroundings, does not make a welcoming environment for the everyday reader. I highly recommend this book, but only to those hardcore sci-fi buffs and intellectual book-club readers that can wade through it. If it can be tolerated, or better yet appreciated for what it is, then We could be your next favorite-book.
Yevgeny Zamyatin has a very interesting history himself. Being a part of Russian Intelligentsia, he was a strong proponent of Russian revolutionary movement and a believer in "change" that was about to follow. While in England, he heard that the change is about to happen and Yevgeny rushed back, so that he could be part the movement to overthrow Czarist regime and create what he thought would have been a workers' paradise. Fast forward a bit and he started to realize that the change that he himself helped create was not at all what it was claiming to be and reality of that change created despot and despair. While the publishing and the media was not yet completely taken over by the new regime, he was able to publish and write several essays, but then further realizing that the regime is changing even more so, he was banned and even arrested for his ideological free voice. If you liked "Brave New World" and "1984", you will love this or actually the other way around. "We" was published before the other two and there are so many items here that were borrowed by Huxley and Orwell, it is not even a question of if, but obvious what and which portions were. Zamyatin creates a One State society in his novel "We", where everyone and everything is for Benefactor's sake and for the "happiness" of the citizens. The wall around the city doesn't just protect those from outside getting in, but also for those inside for being "happy". Here we see strong resemblances of the same picture perfect anti Utopian "Utopia" as in "Brave New World". We see rationing and partnership assignments, if you will, just like in Huxley's novel, and many parts, which I am sure Huxley decided to "borrow" from "We". Also, there are many examples of despot and punishment, social behavior and work related previsions as we see in "1984" later. My guess is as such. Since Soviet Union was not big on world copyright laws, and the fact that some of Zamyatin's works were not officially published until 1980s and even 90s, that both Huxley and Orwell had an opportunity to reviewing those works. Lesser in popularity of all three of those anti Utopian novels, "We" however does present a great example, interesting and clever plot on the society that is "great" in theory, but not so in reality. Zamyatin is a great visionary and this book, scary enough, could have been a road map for despots to use. "Freedom or happiness, but if you are free, you can't be happy" - We, Zamyatin. Also, the numerous examples of how "chaotic" the free world is and was, in what "We" refers to as in ancients' way of life. Freedom caused crime and war according to One State and Benefactor. It seems that by associating freedom with all the "evil" in the world, the Benefactor and Guardians are able to create this "perfect" happy world that is not free, but "happy". Overall, I really enjoyed reading this first of the three great anti Utopian novels. It is a wonderful example of both fiction and the author's reality, how utopia only exists in theory, but in reality people do want and do strive for freedom to make their own decision and their own choices. Zamyatin's life, is a perfect example of to be careful of what you wish for and out of the three, he is the only author who actually wrote his work while living in completely despotic society. Highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys this genre.
I really won't get into it here. "We" is a book that you have to read to understand why I feel this way. If you remember reading dystopian novels in high school, I can guarantee that your teacher missed this jewel. A precursor and inspiration to 1984 and Brave New World, this book makes Ayn Rand's Anthem look like a kids book. (not to mention that I believe that her book is a blatant rip of the subject book.) Zamyatin's genius truly shines in this short but well thought out piece of anti-Stalinist writing, that transcends (as all good books do) time and space.
We is such a perfect novel that to sum it in such a small area such as this would be a great injustice to the magnitude of this novel's quality. Simply put: We is, hands down, one of the single greatest works of literature ever written.
WE is a true classic and an extraordinary novel in many senses. It was the inspiration behind George Orwell¿s book 1984, and other subsequent books of the utopian/dystopian sub-genre, such as UNION MOUJIK, BRAVE NEW WORLD. The age-old conflict between individual self and the collective being that man has grappled with in our efforts to become more human is treated beautifully in thus book. What is peculiar about it is that the author never allowed politics to dominate. Overall, the Utopian-Fantasy is a recommended read.
A must read for anyone who has read 1984or Brave New World. Be sure to read the intro to understand how he uses language as math, so interesting!
Many people's first introduction to dystopic literature is when they read "1984" in high school. However, the roots of dystopian literature go back even farther. One of the first - and seminal works - of this genre is Yevgeny Zamyatin's "We". It is the grandfather of works like "1984", "Brave New World", and Vonnegut's "Player Piano". It is a satirical look at the utopian fantasy ruled by a select elite. Our story revolves around D-503, a mathmetician and scientist working on the Integral, a spaceship that will take his society's One State philosophy (via conquest) to other worlds. In the One State, life is organized to promote maximum efficiency (its developer, F.W. Taylor, is almost revered in this culture). Everyone's lives in One State are regimented, right down to the number of chews everyone is to take from their bite of food to regularly scheduled conjugal visits. Further, there is no concept of privacy, as all walls are transparent except for those conjugal visits when curtains may be lowered. D-503 writes his journal as a prelude to the launch of Integral as a way of explaining his society to those worlds his One State attempts to conquer. However, along the way his attention is diverted by the charms of I-330 who smokes and openly flirts with D-503 in open defiance of One State. However much she repels him, yet he is strangely attracted to her. As time goes one, we find D-503 slowly losing his firm grasp on what he thought he knew. He is obsessed over the thought of the square root of -1 (which is an imaginary number and something with which a mathmetician would be familiar). D-503 eventually discovers that I-330 is a member of MELPHI, a group seeking to reintegrate the One State society with those humans still living on the outside. It is from that point that D-503 reaches his end and his eventual restoration within the One State society. There are some difficulties with the book, notwithstanding its classic stature. Because it was translated from Russian, certain sentences come off as awkward in reading. It areas where D-503 is going through a delusional phase, the short, choppy sentences don't lend themselves to easy reading. On the positive, this a great story to show what the effects of government as patriarch can do to a society, especially after members of the One State start rebelling. All of the efforts of the patrician government are for the benefit (read: subjugation) of their citizens. Much of what we today call "Orwellian" speech can be rightly find its birthplace in this book. D-503 routinely denounces concepts such as freedom and free will as the cause of unhappiness; only through rigid adherence to the wishes of the state can true happiness be found. BOTTOM LINE: This book should be on the shelf of every enthusiastic reader of science fiction/dystopian literature.
I'm sure this book is great, but the ebook version is absolutely terrible. By far the worst conversion I have ever read. Words missing, haphazard punctuation, letters merged or omitted...all of this, several times per page. Truly awful. Do yourself a favor and either pick another "We" ebook version or just buy a hard copy.
Written in the aftermath of the Bolshvik revolution, this intriguing novel is as relevant today as it was when it was written. The cult of conformity and subversion of critical thinking and introspection are still alive and well. "We" is a prescient tale and carries lessons that we need to re-learn today.
Fantastic! Thought it might read a little dated, written in the early 20th century. Not at all. Sucker for the dystopian novels, and this is the mother & the father of them all