Thursday, May 28, 2009

"We" - by Yevgeny Zamyatin

I've only just closed the last page of this fascinating book. I feel as breathless as D-503, the journalist and main character of the story, as he searches for his grip on his reality. What a ride.

The story is chronicled by D-503, a cipher of the One State. He is happily obedient as worker-mathematician, toiling for the Benefactor. But by the meddling in his head of a woman, I-330, he becomes ill with a "soul" that torments him with feelings, laughter,

But she's no ordinary cipher, of course. She has designs. And D-503 finds himself dragged toward his own destruction by the ring in his nose. Has he replaced one dictator for another?

Zamyatin was no stranger to Totalitarianism. This novel emerges from the time of revolutionary Petrograd. It took the Czechs to manage getting it to print. He'd been arrested and exiled from Russia, arrested and internally exiled (when they couldn't keep him out), and put before a judge again who kicked him back out. All for his revolutionary writing.

The claim has been made that Zamyatin is the inventor of the Dystopia, and that might possibly be true in fiction, This book is rife with "cliche" plot twists and turns, but at its time of writing, it hadn't become cliche yet. It was pioneering.

The novel does often read almost as a stream-of-consciousness tale, and at times I truly struggled to tell the difference between D-503's imaginings and what seemed to be reality. Which isn't exactly a departure from what D-503 himself experiences, so I found this forgivable. I've been told the translation can make an astounding difference as to language, tone, and effect, and so I'll share that I read the translation by Natasha Randall, and I found it to be poetically breathtaking.

I struggled for some time to find a tea companion for this novel that truly fits. And I discovered a wonderful new tea at the same time; one I find particularly true to the flavor of "We". Numi's "Golden Chai"-- --is a beautifully delicate balance of traditional chai with a clearly defined ginger overtone that complements the tragic, but septically clean, life of Zamyatin's ciphers with living at the mercy of the One State.

Try both, the book and the tea, and let me know what you think!

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