We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Inside its glass dome, the One State is a place of mathematical precision, a community where everything is everyone’s and integrity, clarity and unerring loyalty reign over all. Δ-503, Constructor of the Integral, is an honest number, ashamed of the hairy hands that link him to a barbaric ancestry. It is this forbidden legacy that torments him by making him lust, that allows him to imagine, that has given him a soul. Consumed by his sickness and obsessed with the seductive and mysterious I-330, Δ-503 is led by his new lover outside the Wall, where he colludes in a plot to overthrow the Benefactor. As the Benefactor retaliates by ordering a state-administered Operation to return order to the perfect world, Δ-503 finds himself fighting for the primitive and natural state of chaos – and rebelling against all that he once held true.

A key work in the history of dystopian literature, Zamyatin’s We was hugely influential, shaping the writing of many other authors including Orwell and Huxley. Written in the1920s, and banned in the Soviet Union for over sixty years, We is still topical today, a portent of future totalitarian regimes, and an admonition that the battle for freedom is never over.

I have an obsession with dystopian literature, yet ironically ended up in the civil service. We live out several ironies in one lifetime. R reminds me that Kafka, too, was a lawyer working for civil service.

What’s on your dystopian booklist?

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