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Old 11-07-2012, 08:10 PM   #1
sun surfer
in this great future
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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

This is the MR Literary Club selection for November 2012. If you've already read it or would like to read it, feel free to join in the conversation at any time!

Availability -
Original English translation by Gregory Zilboorg, free and apparently in public domain, PDF only
German translation, free, MobileRead Library (other formats also available)
Amazon US (Translation 1)
Amazon US (Translation 2)
Amazon US (Translation 3)
B&N (Translation 1)
B&N (Translation 2)
B&N (Translation 3)
Kobo (Translation 1)


So, what are you thoughts on it?

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Old 11-07-2012, 09:31 PM   #2
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Wow! I read this back in 1980-something while I was in college. I remember thinking it was so much better than Orwell's 1984. But I wish I remember why and what I especially liked about it. I might just have to do a re-read.
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Old 11-08-2012, 07:27 AM   #3
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Whatever I end up thinking of the book that cover art is awesome.
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Old 11-08-2012, 08:04 AM   #4
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Whatever I end up thinking of the book that cover art is awesome.
I thought so tot. I was about to switch out the cover I put on in Calibre and then realised that it wasn't in English.

EDIT: A little surgery with GIMP and I now have a better cover.

Last edited by caleb72; 11-14-2012 at 02:28 AM.
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Old 11-08-2012, 02:44 PM   #5
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That's a great choice! I have a pb copy of WE that I bought back in 1959. It is the Ziboorg translation with his forward. It has an introduction by Peter Rudy and a preface by Marc Slonim. I remember that I really liked it very much. However, I've not read it since so I look forward to making a fresh start.

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Old 11-16-2012, 08:05 PM   #6
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OK - I've finished!

Let me start by saying that I liked this book. The idea of reading a precursor to greats like 1984 and Brave New World had me excited and mostly, this did not disappoint.

I did find it hard to follow some of his thoughts. There's quite a lot of incomplete thoughts that I think I'm supposed to grasp but am perhaps a bit too dim to understand. However, it didn't prevent me from enjoying it.

I really liked that this story was told from the point of view of someone who fervently wants to believe in the ideals of the United State. The fascinating thing about a society aiming for mathematical perfection is that it's compelling while being frightening. It reminds me that often horrific outcomes are born from happy ideals.

I might be considered a bit paranoid, but I quite often look around me and see the work of those who let such happy ideals warp into a form of subtle or unsubtle oppression. The slogans designed to reprogram the way we think about things, that bring us bleating to order.

I always think it strange when people refer to works like this as "dated". The players change but the goal of the game remains the same in any place and in any time.

Do we think that D- was actually misdirected from the golden path by I- as result of lust or love? I personally don't think so. I just think D- was really just awakening that hairy-handed core of his being and she was convenient because he immediately recognised her as different - that 'X' of her expression - the sharpness of teeth. His recollection of her filled with the symbols of the primitive, the unfathomable, the square root of minus 1.

The rest of the book is then a war between this inner beast and the mathematical purity he wishes for intellectually.

Another thought I had was that while this horrific oppression remained frighteningly compelling. Freedom remained a chaotic, violent and unappealing answer. That, in itself, is an education - that what we wish for in our society today has consequences that I sometimes think we are unwilling to accept. It's what I think gives the various United States of our day a hold over us. We can be wooed with the thought of peace, of safety; that all this suffering could end if we just....

This is the dead horse I like to flog, but in my country, the road toll - those dying in or because of cars - is an example of how the powers-that-be exert a kind of control over the population.

Slogans like "Speed Kills" and similar litter our roads and media. The use of speed signs to reduce the need for thinking, the control over what you can or can't do while in the car, the constant barrage or information telling you that you're too drunk to drive or too drowsy. And all of this is swallowed because people don't accept the consequences of chaos, of freedom. The fact that people can die on the road is somehow abhorrent and not acceptable and this oppression both subtle and unsubtle is applied in the name of controlling something that can not be controlled.

I found this book instructive and although translated from the original, I found some of the expressions to be eloquent. This phrase is an example that I think stood out:

Quote:
She burst out laughing loudly, too loudly. Swiftly, in a second, she laughed herself to some unseen edge, stumbled, and fell over....Silence.
Anyone else finished this yet?
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Old 11-18-2012, 05:07 PM   #7
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Anyone else finished this yet?
I finished it just today - I did take some time to mull over it, but I cannot say I liked it. Actually, for the first half I was really and truly loving it, but once I managed to step back from it a little, I am afraid that I did find it a bit dated - the thing is, we know today many things that were not known (or at least not to the same brutal extent) in 1924, when this book was written, and I think that the stark truth of actual facts sadly beats the dystopian novel, at least for me.

For instance, a couple of years back I saw a short interview to a former guard in a North Korean camp, explaining how he had been brainwashed to the point that when he assisted with the execution of a family (mom, dad, young child) by gas, he marvelled at the horribly futile effort of the parents to pump their own breath into their child, as he could not assume such enemies of the state could have feelings too. Truly horrifying - but once you have that, the final chapter (which I won't spoil for those who haven't got that far yet) cannot punch you hard enough.

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I did find it hard to follow some of his thoughts. There's quite a lot of incomplete thoughts that I think I'm supposed to grasp but am perhaps a bit too dim to understand. However, it didn't prevent me from enjoying it.
same here :-)

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Do we think that D- was actually misdirected from the golden path by I- as result of lust or love? I personally don't think so. I just think D- was really just awakening that hairy-handed core of his being and she was convenient because he immediately recognised her as different - that 'X' of her expression - the sharpness of teeth. His recollection of her filled with the symbols of the primitive, the unfathomable, the square root of minus 1.

The rest of the book is then a war between this inner beast and the mathematical purity he wishes for intellectually.

Another thought I had was that while this horrific oppression remained frighteningly compelling. Freedom remained a chaotic, violent and unappealing answer. That, in itself, is an education - that what we wish for in our society today has consequences that I sometimes think we are unwilling to accept. It's what I think gives the various United States of our day a hold over us. We can be wooed with the thought of peace, of safety; that all this suffering could end if we just....
I have to agree with a lot of this - in the end, I am glad I read the book, as at the very least it helps put in context 1984 and Brave new world, but again I was disappointed with some bits of the plot that just did not feel write - again I don't want to spoil it for those who have not read it yet, but let us say that things happen to D which should have immediate consequence (at least in the logic of the United State) that are simply not there...
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Old 11-18-2012, 08:30 PM   #8
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Phew! Thanks for that paola. I thought I was going to be the only person commenting.

And thanks for this...

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For instance, a couple of years back I saw a short interview to a former guard in a North Korean camp, explaining how he had been brainwashed to the point that when he assisted with the execution of a family (mom, dad, young child) by gas, he marvelled at the horribly futile effort of the parents to pump their own breath into their child, as he could not assume such enemies of the state could have feelings too. Truly horrifying - but once you have that, the final chapter (which I won't spoil for those who haven't got that far yet) cannot punch you hard enough.
First of all - horrifying.

Secondly, are you saying in terms of dated that you think that the harshness of this dystopian society doesn't measure up to reality? That it somehow whitewashes just how terrible such a society can be with the above as an example?

I thought the Operation was pretty horrific myself. And what was scariest was that people were opting to take it. And I guess that's the "un-datedness" I see in the book because we read about measures that convince people to enslave themselves. There are quite a few parallels I see in society today. Less the boot and more the slogan.

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again I don't want to spoil it for those who have not read it yet, but let us say that things happen to D which should have immediate consequence (at least in the logic of the United State) that are simply not there...
Yes. I was a bit confused by this myself. There were a few parts of the book where I felt I wasn't connecting the dots well enough and this was one of them. I was thinking that he was being set up - a la 1984, but I don't quite see how that actualised. That is of course, unless for a reason completely unexplained, that the United State wanted D- reformed rather than destroyed.

I actually think as far as a cohesive plot goes, it wasn't quite there. I liked it more for intent than for story if you know what I mean.
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Old 11-20-2012, 09:42 AM   #9
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First of all - horrifying.
actually, I've found a link - the writeout is here and the whole programme here (it was back in 2004 though: doesn't time fly )

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Secondly, are you saying in terms of dated that you think that the harshness of this dystopian society doesn't measure up to reality? That it somehow whitewashes just how terrible such a society can be with the above as an example?
yes, precisely: though once you put it so starkly I start feeling I may have been too harsh. The Operation is horrifying indeed, though you may argue that we do willingly submit to milder forms of it still today, whenever we subscribe to anything that does the thinking for us (ok, yes,I am thinking religion), or simply suspend the thinking (e.g. drugs).

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This is the dead horse I like to flog, but in my country, the road toll - those dying in or because of cars - is an example of how the powers-that-be exert a kind of control over the population.

Slogans like "Speed Kills" and similar litter our roads and media. The use of speed signs to reduce the need for thinking, the control over what you can or can't do while in the car, the constant barrage or information telling you that you're too drunk to drive or too drowsy. And all of this is swallowed because people don't accept the consequences of chaos, of freedom. The fact that people can die on the road is somehow abhorrent and not acceptable and this oppression both subtle and unsubtle is applied in the name of controlling something that can not be controlled.
Actually I forgot to comment upon this one: agree to some extent, but what about the issue of "who pays for it when things go wrong"? You can get the same result (i.e. a "littering"of "Speed kills") not because of a "nanny state", but simply on the basis of a very pragmatic approach whereby I have to curb my enthusiasm for fast/drunken/drowsy driving as you would have to pay (with your taxes) for my medical care/funeral or just for road repairs when I go straight at the bend
But perhaps I am putting it too simplistically (if that is an English word)?
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Old 11-20-2012, 08:09 PM   #10
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So I just completed the book this afternoon. It was a difficult read for me at times as I often was not sure exactly what the author was trying to say, that is in terms of what real events or thoughts he was trying to describe. Then also I believe he was always trying to create the atmosphere of precise sharp edged glass and perfect mathematical order, and that was what was important not necessarily the meaning of the words.

I also found the ending, the “operation” that everyone so willing submitted to, the most horrifying aspect of the novel. In many ways more depressing and harsh then the ending of 1984 by George Orwell. Not only is the resistance to the state discovered and rooted out, but all hope of any future resistance permanently removed. Chilling thought though. How about the real use of lobotomy in our real world? Or even Prozac? It did raise one question in my mind though and that is why the torture of I-330 at the end? I mean why would that be necessary when the operation could have turned her into another cog in the state without thought of rebellion or aspiration?

I guess I disagree with Caleb and Paola in that I thought in that D-503's attraction to I-330 did have a great deal to do with sexual attraction as well as his sense that she was different.

I really grew curious about the historical context of this novel and of the author himself, especially with respect to the influence this book might have had on Aldous Huxley in writing A Brave New World and on George Orwell in writing 1984. I found this quote from the Wikipedia article on We:

Quote:
George Orwell averred that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We.[10] However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H.G. Wells' utopias long before he had heard of We.[11] According to We translator Natasha Randall, Orwell believed that Huxley was lying.[12] Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."[13]

Fellow Russian author Ayn Rand's Anthem (1938) has many significant similarities to We (detailed here), although it is stylistically and thematically different.[14]

George Orwell began Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) some eight months after he read We in a French translation and wrote a review of it.[15] Orwell is reported as "saying that he was taking it as the model for his next novel."[16] Brown writes that for Orwell and certain others, We "appears to have been the crucial literary experience."[17] Shane states that "Zamyatin's influence on Orwell is beyond dispute".[18] Russell, in an overview of the criticism of We, concludes that "1984 shares so many features with We that there can be no doubt about its general debt to it", however there is a minority of critics who view the similarities between We and 1984 as "entirely superficial". Further, Russell finds "that Orwell's novel is both bleaker and more topical than Zamyatin's, lacking entirely that ironic humour that pervades the Russian work."[11]
Personally I found that while I could see inspirations for A Brave New World in We, it is obvious to me that 1984 was really a reworking of it.

I have to comment on one other thing, and that related to two of the items among the many where the book refers to mathematics. There is mention of the Taylor Series several times as well as mention of the United State society being based on the ideas of Taylor. So I was confused during reading the novel. What did 17th Century English mathematician Brook Taylor who developed the Taylor Series have to do with this vision of society? The Wikipedia article on We made clear that if was a different Taylor being referred to, Frederick Taylor a late 19th to early 20th Century American mechanical engineer who was a leader of the Efficiency Movement.

The other item that bothered me slightly was the author referring to the “irrational √-1.” As any one with some knowledge of mathematics knows √-1 is an imaginary (or paired with a real number complex) number, not an irrational number. Then again perhaps the author meant irrational here not in the meaning so taken in mathematics, but just an irrational idea or thought?




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actually, I've found a link - the writeout is here and the whole programme here (it was back in 2004 though: doesn't time fly )


yes, precisely: though once you put it so starkly I start feeling I may have been too harsh. The Operation is horrifying indeed, though you may argue that we do willingly submit to milder forms of it still today, whenever we subscribe to anything that does the thinking for us (ok, yes,I am thinking religion), or simply suspend the thinking (e.g. drugs).

Thanks for that information Paola. North Korea seems to be about as close as one can find in the world today to the sort of fictional society in We,
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:36 PM   #11
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I also found the ending, the “operation” that everyone so willing submitted to, the most horrifying aspect of the novel. In many ways more depressing and harsh then the ending of 1984 by George Orwell. Not only is the resistance to the state discovered and rooted out, but all hope of any future resistance permanently removed. Chilling thought though. How about the real use of lobotomy in our real world? Or even Prozac? It did raise one question in my mind though and that is why the torture of I-330 at the end? I mean why would that be necessary when the operation could have turned her into another cog in the state without thought of rebellion or aspiration?
I agree - both about the comparison with 1984 and for what happened with I- at the end. As I mentioned earlier, I felt the plot was a bit strange in parts and didn't always make sense to me.

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I guess I disagree with Caleb and Paola in that I thought in that D-503's attraction to I-330 did have a great deal to do with sexual attraction as well as his sense that she was different.
Yes, you're probably right there. I may be looking far too much into it. I was trying to reduce everything down to the struggle between the rational and irrational - the primitive and the sophisticated.
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Old 11-21-2012, 02:09 AM   #12
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Found this book in the CLEVNET digital library catalog. Now I've got to do my (re)read to see how much I remember from....holy cow, 30 years ago!
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Old 11-21-2012, 03:28 AM   #13
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Found this book in the CLEVNET digital library catalog. Now I've got to do my (re)read to see how much I remember from....holy cow, 30 years ago!
Yay - more discussion!
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Old 11-25-2012, 08:28 AM   #14
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I've finished and I liked the book very much. The author did a great job of characterising the mood of the uniformed people in the United State that kills all individuality. I can imagine that after the October Revolution there has been a lot of discussion among the Russian people how their society will develop now, what it will mean in reality when all men are free and equal and the owners of their state. Zamyatin showed great visionary with his warning book here.

As most of the topics are already discussed here I like to mention only some minor side points.

- I really liked the love story/triad between I and O and D and the opposition of sincere and, yes, boring love on the one side and sexual attraction and calculation on the other. Some things never change and happened in Russia in 1920 and in our days and most probably in a thousand years too.

- Okay, it was not the aim of the book to paint the world in 1000 years with all the technical progress but in my mind the author didn't show great imagination for all the technical progress that might happen.

- I sometimes thought that the plot has some little holes. At least I wondered about the relative amount of freedom of D who could visit the old house and overstep the walking hours without any problems or sanctions. It contradicted a little bit the general mood of surveillance and restricted actions, but otherwise was necessary to develop the story.

Last edited by Billi; 11-25-2012 at 08:35 AM. Reason: sorry, mixed D and R
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Old 11-25-2012, 08:35 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Billi View Post
- I sometimes thought that the plot has some little holes. At least I wondered about the relative amount of freedom of R who could visit the old house and overstep the walking hours without any problems or sanctions. It contradicted a little bit the general mood of surveillance and restricted actions, but otherwise was necessary to develop the story.
Do you mean D- here? R- was the main character's friend.
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