Saturday, February 21, 2015


WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

George Orwell, you poser. You punk. You . . . thief! I heard that you had read this before writing 1984. But I didn't expect Zamyatin's writing to be so superior to yours. And it is. It is so much more intriguing than your sterile work. D-503 is so much the better character than Winston. And you rob I-333 of her power and respect by demoting Julia to the role of a sexual object that stirs Winston to action. Yes, D-503 is stirred to action by I-333, but she's the political activist, the intelligent one in this revolution. Besides, Zamyatin had the guts to apply a letter and a name to his characters, while your very English "Winston" makes your work smack of parochialism and, frankly, condescension. D-503 is the universal toadie and I-333 the universal revolutionary.

"Winston"? Really? Were you trying to evoke Churchill? Somehow I sense . . .

Regardless of this, Zamyatin's prose is far better than yours. It never seems hackneyed, and rarely pedantic, though I suppose any novel that portrays rebellion against totalitarianism has to be somewhat pedantic. But because Zamyatin actually lived under a totalitarian state - TWO, actually! - and you only imagined what the Socialists would do in your imaginary world, he avoids much of the rhetoric that you seem to embrace, even while lampooning the imagined society of Big Brother.

You see, despite his impersonal name, D-503 is so much more human than Winston. Yes, Winston is a revolutionary like D-503, but when I read him in comparison with the protagonist of We, Winston comes off as disingenuous. D-503 is the real deal, because Zamyatin was the real deal. The man was exiled by both the Tsar and the Communists for his free-thinking while you were worried about threats from within your country that never materialized. Maybe that's why 1984 feels so forced (remember that awful middle section outlining the world's politics - BORING!), while We feels so much more natural and easy to read.

Furthermore, Zamyatin's prose is beautiful. Yes, you have the occasional turn of phrase that came out well, iconic, even, but Zamyatin's writing is beautiful throughout, even in its stochasticity. It's the writing of a poet who actually lived under totalitarianism, not a vested academic who feared a potential threat. You were fighting despotism, Zamyatin was living with it. You surmised, he knew.

And for these reasons, I am doing the unprecedented (for me, at least): I am taking one of your stars and giving it to Zamyatin. Because, while his work isn't perfect, one must give credit where credit is due. Censorship, along with the the Cold War, gave you your day in the sun of America's high school classrooms, when, all along, those kids, myself included, should have been reading Zamyatin's work.

That's an injustice. Maybe you're not totally to blame. Maybe Western society has to shoulder some of the guilt here. But . . . but . . . you copycat!

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