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This review is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

BALLET RUSSE Yevgeny Zamyatin, Islanders and The Fisher of Men, translated by Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi (The Salamander Press) £7.95


This morning I was at the launching site where the Integral is under construction - and I suddenly caught sight of the work benches. Sightlessly, in self-oblivion, the globes of the regulators rotated; the cranks, glittering, bent to right and left; a balanced beam swayed its shoulders proudly; the blade of a gouging lathe was doing a squatting dance in time to unheard music. I suddenly perceived all the beauty of this grandiose mechanical ballet, flood-lighted by the ethereal, azure-surrounded sun.


The vivid, choreographed dynamism animating this swift series of primary Constructivist icons comes - well, not from 1984, and not from Brave New World either. A ballet, for sure, a celebratory industrial-mechanical dance. Linguistic too, since, even at a brief translated sampling, it is obvious that Zamyatin's We presents a fiction poetically worked-through. By contrast, Orwell's and Huxley's more famous (and now, it is true, in patches very faded) dystopian novels, though deep in Zamyatin's debt, offer something simpler. For all their supervening intelligence, their fictionally emphatic point-making - plenty to talk about still - they are more or less revealed-at-sight compendia of imagined possibility, eloquently organised but linguistically uninteresting. And though not un-, Zamyatin ('the Englishman') does go under-acknowledged. Not very remarkable, since the Russian authorities have never encouraged a public for him there; but odd in the light of the endorsing attention people here still want to expend on the overweening plagiaries of a Wyndham Lewis.

Islanders and ...


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