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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin: The First Dystopian Novel

Before 1984, there was We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Written in 1921, this is the OG Dystopian novel, the one that started it all and inspired the likes of 1984, Brave New World, and even The Hunger Games series. Like a true 20th century Russian author, Zamyatin was an early supporter of the Bolsheviks but ultimately became disillusioned with the Soviet Union and died as an exile in Paris.

We is set in a future totalitarian state called OneState and is presented as a set of diary entries written by our main character D-503, an engineer involved in building the state’s grand Integral spaceship. In the beginning, the reader is introduced to the OneState and its strange rules but as the book progresses, D-503’s entries become less structured as he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to undermine and overthrow the state.

Zamyatin paints a chilling picture of a totalitarian state gone to the extreme. The OneState is run by mathematics and numbers, every single citizen’s days are centrally planed, humans are numbered instead of named, and any trace of emotion is prohibited by the state.

This novel grips you from the early pages and is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. Because dystopian stories tend to be quite similar (and this one is the grandaddy of them all) you probably already have a general outline of the story so don’t expect to be completely blown away by the plot. Instead, remember that this was written in 1921 (100 years ago!) and appreciate how ahead of his time Yevgeny Zamyatin was.

At only 200ish pages, this is a very short novel. Plus, it’s written as an epistolary (in the form of D-503’s diary entries) so it’s even easier to digest and each chapter (or diary entry) is quite short making it very readable. There is basically no reason not to read this short, enjoyable, relevant, and very influential novel. 

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