Yevgeny Zamyatin was a Russian novelist, playwright and satirist whose writing explores the themes of despotism, individuality, and alienation. His most famous work is the novel We, which pioneered the dystopian literary genre, opening the field for novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Many of his lesser-known writings critique and document the realities of Russian life under both the Tsarist and Communist regimes.
Zamyatin was born in the rural village of Lebedyan, Russia in 1884 to an orthodox priest and a musician. In addition to being an avid reader, as a young adult Zamyatin studied engineering in St. Petersburg, after which he joined the Russian Imperial Navy. He was arrested twice by the Tsarist government, once during the Russian Revolution of 1905, and again in 1911. Zamyatin spent roughly a year in a Siberian prison for his dissent and involvement with Bolshevik activities. Eventually he was sent to the United Kingdom to supervise the construction of icebreaker ships. Though he was a staunch Communist, Zamyatin was above all anti-authoritarian; after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution he was targeted by the new Communist regime for his advocacy of anti-establishment writings. In 1931, after several years of his work being censored, Zamyatin asked Joseph Stalin to grant him permanent exile.
His first notable work, Uyezdnoye (A Provincial Tale), published in 1913, satirized rural Russian life. Soon after, Zamyatin published Na Kulichkakh (At the World’s End), a short story about drunken sailors. The vignette would lead to a trial in which Zamyatin was accused of maligning the Russian Imperial Army. He continued to gain notice with several short stories and essays. Inspired by his time in England, Zamyatin wrote Ostrovitiane (The Islanders) in 1918, documenting what he perceived to be a cold and repressed English culture. Two years later, in 1920, he penned his most renowned work, We, though the novel was not published in Russia until 1988. We was first released in the United States, where it received great acclaim and was subsequently republished in several languages.
After his exile in 1931, Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote little. He died of a heart attack on March 10, 1937 in Paris. Despite his great contribution to Russian and world literature, Zamyatin died relatively unknown and penniless. Since his death, We has been resurrected and continues to inspire writers and students alike.