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Yevgeny Zemyatin

average rating is 3 out of 5

Dystopia, Science Fiction, Russian Literature, Classics

R. Alex Jenkins

Maybe my expectations were too high, but this was a bit of a letdown. The regularly unfinished sentences, abstract thought processes and dreamlike scenes made little sense. Everything seems smashed down on the page.

Yevgeny Zemyatin had a drug problem maybe, writing like he was off his face? Or maybe that’s what Soviet-era oppression does to you, with much to say but little time to do so?

The book feels rushed, slap dash, half-assed and bonkers in places. Shakespeare on acid, Dostoyevsky after a lobotomy. Speaking of lobotomies, the basic premise that it's an illness to think outside the box or use your imagination is good, cured by a state-funded operation to become normal again, to become perfectly regulated like a machine.

I'm only giving this three stars because I didn't enjoy it enough, but I'm not finished yet. There are positives to this potentially fantastic book, spoiled by being too technical and disjointed in a stream-of-consciousness style. It’s hard to understand what’s going on half the time, questioning your basic intelligence (or the psychedelic effect it induces) in a strange and inexplicably woven dream.

I love the concept of developing a human conscience and discovering your hidden soul, but I struggled as a fluid read... the disconnected nature of it, sometimes abstract and introspective, an effort to push forward, almost soporific in places as I forced myself uphill while bombarded with imaginary rocks.

This is still a decent book if you enjoy dystopian literature, to understand where multiple concepts originated from, especially if you're interested in Russia and communism (or abhor them), still widely prevalent today but equally baffling to grasp from a western perspective.

We is more idealistic/historic than a riveting read. It hangs together loosely and perhaps isn’t worth the effort, but that’s where the negatives end. There is something weirdly profound about it.

It's gentle and occasionally beautiful, like fluffy ewes bleating in front of an electric fence, rather than angry rams busting their heads to get out. Supplicating rather than demanding. Do we accept our fate instead of revolting against it? Can we remain oblivious to herding and possible slaughter? Do we fail to see what’s right in front of us?

The question is, do we do what we want, do what we need to do, or what's assigned to us? Do we choose our actions or is big brother controlling us (1984)? We are free to do whatever we like, but are we really? Bizarrely, some people walk into a shopping mall and open fire while everyone else amazes and revolts that this can even happen.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. Do we take more soma and indulge in orgy-porgy (Brave New World), or fight against the system and become outcasts - the real choice - to obey or go your own way? If you're happy, why not go with the flow? If not, why do it all?

The writing style is strangely comedic. Plappa the electronic math tutor with its plap-plap sound when connected to the mains; our protagonist's "girlfriend" known as 'O' who is comically round in looks as well as personality and sexuality. Faces described in angles corresponding to vivid physiognomies and personalities. Being stuck in a 'happy' society while sensing there's something inexplicably wrong.

And there are some good quotes to be lifted as well:

what if that yellow-eyed one, sitting there on that absurd dirty heap of leaves, is happier than I, in his life which cannot be calculated in figures!

Are rudimentary animals better off than us because of their simplistic lives? Are we doomed because of our overcomplications?

Even though I struggled, I have to give it props because of how thought-provoking it is. Awkward, hard to grasp and bonkers in places. Difficult to love, difficult to condemn. Maybe one to be appreciated in retrospect.

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