Review: We – by Yevgeny Zamyatin

we

This science-fiction classic was written in 1920s Russia and was cited by George Orwell as a key inspiration for his seminal 1984. We are in the 26th century and following victory in a 200 year war, society has reached its apogee in a walled off universal nation called OneState. All submit to the will of the Benefactor and individuality has essentially been erased. The people have no names and are instead assigned numbers. They live in transparent apartment blocks and have a rigorous timetable for every daily activity, including sex. We see the novel through the eyes of D-503, the number in charge of the building of the INTEGRAL, a spaceship that will advance this technology-rich society even further. O-90 is a female who regularly produces pink tickets for intimate sessions with our protagonist D-503 and all is sailing smoothly until the entrance of I-330, a new woman who begins to spread an ‘illness’ to D-503 as her ancient ideas cause an awakening of his soul. Ever evading the careful monitoring of the guardians, D-503 and I-330 embark on a romantic adventure of nostalgia, setting up discreet meetings in the Ancient House where eventually I-330 reveals her liaisons with survivors beyond the wall who live in nature. They want to hijack the INTEGRAL and eventually lead OneState into a revolution, just as the masses are being exposed to the latest innovation from the Benefactor, X-Ray brains surgery to annihilate the population’s imagination and to create perfect happiness. Zamyatin writes fluently and I found myself rapidly burning through the pages of a story that bears signs of 1984 and Brave New World yet on the whole I feel, is a slightly more romantic tale, less political and the beauty of the writing is that the imagery and ideas are florid in the reader’s imagination. It is a journey, a battle of logic and a futuristic adventure where the dystopia resembles much of our 21st century life almost a hundred years after the author first penned the words. A great, unmissable book, five stars.

Advertisements

Review: For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Farewell to Arms is said to be Hemingway’s best book. Set in the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan is an American fighting in the International Brigades for the Republicans. He is tasked with blowing a bridge behind enemy lines and joins a band of guerrillas based in a cave, nor far from the chosen target. He falls in love with a rescued young girl and for three days enjoys true love. The book is feted as the best fictional account of the Spanish Civil War. I feel that Hemingway truly captures the feelings of this conflict. He worked as a war correspondent during the actual war and For Whom The Bell Tolls contains his accurate observations from the field. From the Madrid luxuries of the (primarily Russian) General staff, to the isolation, bonding, disputes and emotions of the guerrilla band, Hemingway weaves a splendid tale of loyalty, betrayal, fear, elation, romance and the horrors of war. I really enjoyed the Spanish language being used in conversation and it really helped to set the scene to hear the people cursing with real Spanish phrases. This work could be used in Translation Studies. It demonstrates the spirit of the Spanish people during their civil war. There is a sense of reality that these people were dealing with many foreigners and it is interesting to see how Robert Jordan, an American or ‘Ingles’, who spoke perfect Spanish, was so well-received and respected by the close-knit band of warriors. For me the ultimate conclusion was disappointing. The tragic twist was quite not as stomach-churning as in that of Farewell to Arms, for example, yet was perhaps the pessimistic outcome that Robert Jordan had envisaged as events conspired against him. Perhaps the book is an accurate description of the desperation of the Republicans as they on the whole unsuccessfully dealt with the formidable fascist foe with all their superior military equipment and force. Farewell to Arms is a great book but I am sure that in the Hemingway archives there is better work still to discover.

View all my reviews

Review: The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939

The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a definitive history of the Spanish Civil War. The book has been regarded by the Spanish themselves as one of the best-researched volumes on this dark period of turmoil in their country’s history. The breakdown of democracy saw the split of the nation and a leftist democratically elected government was forced to deal with the rise of a militaristic fascist rising headed by Franco. The precursor to World War 2, this civil war attracted the interests of the rising Fascist movement across Europe with the Caudillo’s forces being supplemented and supported by Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. They got to test out their modern weaponry in the field of action and a lack of international support for the actual government left them with little alternative but to rely on the Soviet Union for their support. This led to the republicans being over-reliant on the Spanish communists who struggled to take over and erode democracy from their own angle, constantly infighting and vying for strength with the other elements of the Spanish left; the Anarchists and the POUM. This history details how all the events unfolded and describes how each of the key battles was won and lost. There was a ferociousness during this conflict which only civil wars attract. The horrors of modern war truly unfolded disasters such as Guernica only emphasised how critical air support had become. The German Condor Legion and their Meschersmitts, backed up by Italian Fiats, consistently demolished the Republican resistance and paved the way for an overall Nationalist victory. Poor military judgement, combined with Stalinist purges of even the more successful Russian generals, left the Republicans constantly making errors in their military tactics. The lack of proper international support (with the exception of the volunteer International Brigades), in particular from Britain led to the inevitable crushing of the elected government and their forces. Appeasement was in the air as Western politicians tried to avoid the inevitable European conflict that was brewing and the Spanish were sacrificed. It was a war of experimentation which left the Spanish people at the mercy of the violent forces which dominated the time. Franco consolidated his own power well and was relentless and unforgiving, not accepting any olive branch of peace when offered and pursuing an ultimate military victory so he could proceed to rebuild his country in his own image. The book is highly detailed and covers every angle well, though I would have perhaps wanted a more lengthy conclusion to discuss more of what happened in the post-conflict period. I look forward to tracking down some of the author’s other work, in particular, his account of the battle of Stalingrad which was often mentioned in this most excellent history of the Spanish Civil War.

View all my reviews

Review: Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin

Free Fall: A Sniper's Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin
Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya. Nicolai Lilin by Nicolai Lilin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Nicolai Lilin’s first book and was keen to get stuck into this follow-up. It is really quite a different story and focusses on his career as a Russian soldier in the Chechnya war. The same vivid, friendly writing style is eminent and the reader becomes attached to the colourful characters Lilin describes. The first-hand horrors of war are very striking and there are some really gruesome scenes. The story flows from battle to battle whether it be mountain warfare or more typical urban warfare. Lilin’s military comrades seem as tight a crew as the criminal gang from his youth and their dark adventures are really exciting and quite gruesome and dark. He has a clever way of seeing light in even the darkest of scenarios, an existential view on his predicament. The writing is paced quickly and the descriptive detail gives a clear image of the author’s wartime adventures. It’s a great read and I truly hope that Nicolai Lilin goes on to write further stories of his interesting life.

View all my reviews