IT IS WITH REGRET that I see, instead of an orderly and strict mathematical epic poem in honor of the One State-I see some kind of fantastic adventure novel emerging from me.” So laments D-503, mathematician and rocket designer, halfway through Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian novel “We.” Completed in 1921, but not published in Russia until 1988, half a century after Zamyatin’s death, it appears this month from the Modern Library in a new English translation by Natasha Randall.
Zamyatin’s vision of a totally controlled society, one in which unresisting citizens eat, sleep, work, and make love like clockwork-and in which thinkers and writers sing the glories of “the morning buzz of electric toothbrushes and . . . the intimate peal of the crystal-sparkling latrine”-was considered too dangerously satirical by the early Soviet state, and it was smuggled abroad in samizdat form. Written a decade before Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” its influence can be seen in George Orwell’s “1984,” and it has been hailed as a warning of the totalitarian dangers inherent in every utopian scheme.
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