Books: The Sign: And Other Stories
by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Translated by John Dewey
Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) is best known for his novel We, a major influence on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Zamyatin’s dystopian vision of a totalitarian society of the future, written soon after the Russian Revolution, brought him into disfavour with the ruling Communist Party and remained banned from publication in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s. Zamyatin was eventually permitted to leave Russia and settle in Paris, where he died in 1937.
Zamyatin’s shorter stories and tales have tended to be overshadowed by his more famous novel. Yet these unduly neglected works are at the very least just as worthy of attention, revealing as they do a writer of great artistry and versatility. Their themes range from the traditional life of peasants and monastic communities under the tsars to satirical accounts of life in Britain inspired by Zamyatin’s time there as a naval engineer in the First World War and depictions of the new post-revolutionary world encountered after his subsequent return to Russia.
The stories in this collection, translated and introduced by Brimstone author John Dewey, have been chosen to reflect the breadth of Zamyatin’s themes and prose style. All but one (‘A Fisher of Men’) are published here in English translation for the first time.
John Dewey's translations of Russian prose fiction include The Nomadic Soul (Glas, 1999) and Day of the Angel (Thames River Press, 2013), both by the contemporary writer Irina Muravyova, and The Old Arbat, Boris Yampolsky's chilling novel of everyday life in Stalin's Russia (Glas, 1995). Among his publications in the field of Russian poetry are a verse translation of Pushkin's narrative poem The Bronze Horseman (shortlisted for the John Dryden Translation Prize 1996/97), and Mirror of the Soul, his critically acclaimed biography of the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, published by Brimstone Press in 2010.
Of the ten stories in this collection, only one, A Fisher of Men, has been translated into English before … Although … Zamyatin is best known for a single book, his short stories are testaments to his genius.
– Michael Pursglove, East-West Review
Following several other Zamiatin-related works released in the last few years, John Dewey’s recent volume of translations rightfully takes its place among this respectable company … As a whole, Dewey’s translations offer a wide-ranging glimpse into Zamiatin’s artistry throughout his most productive years, highlight the idiosyncrasies of his prose, and illuminate less often seen portions of his works for English readers and students of Russian literature.
– José Vergara, Slavic and East European Journal
These wide-ranging stories by the author of the famous dystopian novel We are just what you might read to get a feel for real provincial Russia in the early twentieth century, distinct from its revolutionary upheavals but not, in the end, untouched by them ... Zamyatin was lucky to survive in early Soviet Russia as long as he did, and John Dewey, his fluent and resourceful translator, explains just how in his informative introduction.
– Lesley Chamberlain, historian of Russian and German literature and culture, on Amazon.co.uk
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