YEVGHENIY ZAMYATIN was born in a small Russian town, to a poor aristocratic family, in 1884. He grew up, as he put it in his autobiography, “under the grand piano: Mother [was] a good musician.... Childhood almost friendless; friends were books.”

Trained in St. Petersburg as an engineer and shipbuilder, in 1920, Zamyatin wrote We as a parody of a utopia written by two Communist ideologues whose main conceit was global reorganization of the world based on “eradication of soul and the feeling of love in man.” He sent the manuscript abroad, where, in 1924, it was translated into English and published in New York. Zamyatin’s plays were subsequently dropped from Soviet theaters’ repertoires and his new books rejected by state publishers.

In 1931, realizing that his life as a writer in the Soviet Russia was over, Zamyatin appealed directly to Iosif Stalin, asking permission to leave the country. Thanks to some influential friends, he secured Stalin’s personal permission and emigrated to France, where he died in March 1937.