Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fortnightly Book, October 26

The fortnightly book this time around is actually a double-billing, since I'll be reading two classics of dystopian science fiction, both of which are by Russian authors, and both of which are structured as prose poems attacking collectivism: Yevgeny Zamyatin's We and Ayn Rand's Anthem.

Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in 1884 in Lebedyan, a couple hundred miles south of Moscow. After studying naval engineering, he joined the Bolsheviks, and spent some time under arrest and in exile during this period of his life. He also spent some time in England building icebreaking ships -- in fact, he was a Bolshevik who missed the Bolshevik revolution entirely. Returning to Russia in 1917, he started publishing works, but quickly became disillusioned with the increasingly intrusive censorship exercised by the new regime. By 1921 he had written We, which was banned. He smuggled copies out and the first English edition was published in 1924. This sort of activity got him blacklisted, and in 1931, he actually wrote Stalin directly, asking to be given permission to emigrate; Stalin gave him permission. Zamyatin settled in Paris, where he died in poverty in 1937.

Ayn Rand was born Alisa Rosenbaum in 1905 in Saint Petersburg to a secular Jewish family. The Bolshevik revolution forced the family to flee to Crimea, although they eventually did return to the newly named Petrograd, where they struggled to get by. She was granted a visa in 1925 to visit American relatives, and arrived the next year, never going back. She eventually made her way to Hollywood, where she worked in various capacities in the film industry, met her husband, Frank O'Connor, and became an American citizen in 1931. Anthem was written while Rand was also writing The Fountainhead, and an English edition was published in 1938, but it was not published in an American edition, considerably revised from the English one, until 1946. (The edition I have has both the final edition as well as a copy of the original edition marked up with Rand's extensive revisions.) She died of heart failure in 1982 in New York City.

The two works have quite a few similarities, but also quite a few differences. It is possible that We was an influence on Anthem, but it is also possible that many of their similarities may actually be due to shared background and intent. (And it is worth noting that Aldous Huxley always insisted that his Brave New World, which also shares quite a few similarities with We, was entirely independent of it.)

A song based on Rand's novella:

Rush, "Anthem". Lyrics here.


  1. Enbrethiliel1:31 PM


    I'm not going to spoil too much, but let me know when you get to the part in Anthem that makes you think of something related to Frankenstein! ;-)

  2. branemrys1:44 PM

    Hmm. Intrigued. I've read it before, but don't remember it in enough detail to think of anything Frankenstein-like -- I will keep my eyes open for it!


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