Friday, May 08, 2009

WE, by Yevgeny Zamytin

This novel is perhaps most famously known for inspiring George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or if not directly inspiring it, definitely influencing Orwell.

I recall reading Orwell’s review of the Yevgeny Zamytin’s WE, written before he’d completed Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I was struck by the similarities between the two (going by the plot synopsis that Orwell gave).

In the introduction, Clarence Brown, who translated this edition, relates how a Russian friend referred to WE as ‘that old post-modern monster’.

Indeed, the descriptions in the novel do remind you of a 1950s low budget black and white film. This is compounded by the novel's minimalist, elliptical style. To this reader it seemed like there were lots of gaps that I had to think hard to fill. The novel was interesting enough for me to make it to the end, but I felt myself grasping to figure out what it all meant.

Afterwards, I read Orwell’s review again, and he of course discussed the political aspects of the novel. WE seems to be an argument against the over reliance on technology, or turning technology into a god. Life is imperfectable, so we had better just accept that and get along as best we can. Otherwise we’ll be getting around with smiles permanently painted on our faces by the a tyrannical state.

This, I admit, is an unsatisfactory review of this very interesting novel. I can't say I really understood it completely. If you’re a fan or Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World (to which it has great similarities also), then you might like to try this ‘old post-modern monster’.

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