Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From 1984 to We

While performing some research on George Orwell's, 1984, I read that a book that inspired him was Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1924 novel, We. In Orwell's estimation, "Zamyatin's intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism -- human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself -- makes We superior to [Aldous] Huxley's Brave New World."

I didn't hold out much hope that I would find this old Russian dystopian novel in my local library system, but I looked anyway. To my utter surprise, not only were there several copies available, but one of those copies was housed at the Raymond Public Library. (Since Raymond is but 4 miles from South Bend, I went over there this afternoon and snatched up the book.) I even learned that one of the Assistant Librarians is fascinated by dystopian literature and had just finished reading We. So, you should expect to see several posts from themes in that book.

For now, I am putting 1984 aside. Below I will list all the posts to date that were focused on various aspects of Orwell's classic novel. I am certainly not saying this represents the end of this miniseries. I have no doubt that I will add a few more posts in the future.


  1. I've read all three, but didn't much care for "We". I found it to be very difficult to follow. Didn't like the writing style. Though I may attempt another reading sometime. If I were you, I would give "Brave New World" another chance. And of course Huxley also wrote a follow up book "Brave New World Revisited". I thought they were both exceptionally excellent books.

    If you're looking for more books on this dystopian "totalitarian theme" I'd also recommend Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale". And of course Hannah Arendt's non-fiction classic "Origins of Totalitarianism". If I can think of any more, I'll let you know.

  2. I certainly do plan to read Brave New World followed by Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I'll add the two books you've suggested to my reading list.

  3. I reread "Brave New World" a few years ago, on a train, and found it, more than anything, quaint.

    The Handmaid's Tale is very disturbing. But in addition to fiction, you might read any of the stories of people who lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution; the real thing is even more disturbing than fiction.

  4. Have any specific book suggestions along that line?

  5. And if you are interested in video, try to find "The Prisoner," Patrick McGoohan's fantastic series from 1967, probably one of the finest pieces of television ever. McGoohan controlled the whole thing. It was kind of a follow-on to Secret Agent Man, ran in the US as a summer replacement series for The Jackie Gleason Show. One episode was never aired in the US because it was deemed too anti-Vietnam-war.

    One of the great lines, on a sign in the Village, was:
    "Questions are a burden for others. Answers are a prison for oneself."


    As Number 6 always said, "Be seeing you."

  6. Re: the Cultural Revolution. There are so many accounts, I have to look through my library, but just a cursory poke in my (messy) shelves reveals "Red in Tooth and Claw," by Pu Ning; "Red China Blues", by Jan Wong; "Spider Eaters", by Rae Yang; also a book of interviews called China Witness by Xin Ran (that is a little broader than just the Cultural Revolution. Anchee Min has written a couple of novels that deal with the subject ("Kathryn" and "Red Azalea") . There are also plenty of accounts about earlier periods--the famine of 1958-62 is a hot topic right now. I'm sure your Assistant Librarian can help you find something.

  7. You can also read "We" online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/55551871/Zamyatin-Yevgeny-We. Scribd.com is a great place to check for books and articles if your library doesn't have something.


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