Although I am still caught up in the strange linguistic universe of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, I somehow managed to break away long enough to read We, a chilling novel written by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin in the 1920s and translated by Mirra Ginsburg in 1972. The precursor of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, We predicted the horrors of Stalinism, and still serves as a warning against manipulative leaders and governments that look upon people only as workers, consumers, numbers, dollars, and cents.

In the twenty-fourth century future that is We, everyone serves the One State. The real, wild, natural world it held at bay behind a giant wall, and people live in glass rooms inside a glass city where they are constantly observed with the aid of sophisticated listening membranes by Guardians intent on keeping order. All activities are strictly regulated, and their timing enforced. Think of it. Think, too, of mock elections, the results of which are known ahead of time. Think of a State-run press that exists only to glorify the actions of the State, and to tell people what they are to think, say, and do. And think of a leader — let’s call him the Great Benefactor, as Zamyatin did — who orders everyone to submit to an operation that will remove the one remaining obstacle to their complete happiness: the imagination — “a worm that gnaws out black lines on the forehead . . . a fever that drives you to escape ever farther, even if this ‘farther’ begins where happiness ends.”

This is from the front page of the One State Gazette itself:

The latest discovery of State Science is the center of the imagination — a miserable little nodule in the brain in the area of the pons Varolii. Triple-X-ray cautery of this nodule — and you are cured of imagination — FOREVER.

Wonderful, isn’t it? To me, it sounds like a refined version of No Child Left Behind.

*   *   *

Other recent acquisitions include Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (used, $2.00, excellent condition), Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 (found in a free-book bin), and a hefty collection of poems by W.B. Yeats (only $3.99 in the Bargain Books section). I’m still looking for Kazantzakis’s 33,333-line sequel to Homer’s Odyssey, which is aptly titled The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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