"I shall attempt nothing more than to note down what I see, what I think - or, to be more exact, what we think (that's right: we, and let this WE be the title of these records). But this, surely, will be a derivative of our life, of the mathematically perfect life of OneState, and if that is so, then won't this be, of its own accord, whatever I may wish, an epic?"
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is an early dystopian novel, possibly one of the earliest and certainly an inspiration for George Orwell's 1984. In fact, I was surprised how closely the plot of 1984 follows the plot of We.D-503 is our narrator and the head of the great Integral project of OneState. In OneState people are given numbers rather than names and every hour of the day has an allocated activity. As a background to D-503's narration, the Integral is being developed, something like a spaceship or rocket that will be able to fly to other planets so that the inhabitants of those planets can also share in the beauty that is OneState. OneState, it seems, has decided that it is best for humanity to have happiness rather than freedom. In fact, it believes that happiness lies in having no freedom. D-503 starts off as an enthusiastic supporter of OneState but when he meets and becomes enthralled by the rebellious female I-330, he becomes more and more confused about what he believes. The novel is described as a prose poem and I have to confess that I felt like I struggled with the prose at times. I read the 1993 translation by Clarence Brown, published by Penguin Classics but I found a couple of reviews that preferred the 2006 translation by Natasha Randall so this may partly have been due to the translation I was reading. I think there is probably a lot more to this short novel than I picked up on from my slightly rushed first read. Zamyatin uses a lot of mathematical imagery that I would like to think about more deeply on a reread. I think 1984 would probably get my vote for the better book but We is certainly worth reading if you want to understand the background to Orwell's book.