In Clarence Brown's1 English translation of Yevgeny Zamyatin's (Russian: Евге́ний Замя́тин) dystopian novel We (1921) (Russian: Мы), there is a passage of text, referring to population, which confused me, in Record2 5 (Square, Rulers of the World, Pleasant and Useful Function).
The excerpt is as follows:
But in the year 35 before the founding of OneState our present petroleum food was invented. True, only 0.2 of the world's population survived. On the other hand, when it was cleansed of a thousand years of filth, how bright the face of the earth became! And what is more, the zero point two tenths who survived . . . tasted earthly bliss in the granaries of OneState.
—We, Record 5 (bold formatting for emphasis done by yours truly)
Typically, in the decimal system, decimals are used to express portions with relation to 1 being the whole (like 100%), and 0 being the nothing (like 0%), such that 0.2 represents 20%, of 1/5, or a fifth, or 2/10, or two tenths.
In the sentence,
True, only 0.2 of the world's population survived.
I read this to mean "only 20% (or two tenths) of the world's population survived". However, this seems to clash with one of the following sentences which reads:
And what is more, the zero point two tenths who survived . . . tasted earthly bliss in the granaries of OneState.
"zero point two tenths" is two hundredths, or 2/100, or 0.02, or 2%, as a result of evaluating 0.2 of a tenth, or
0.1 * 0.2 = 0.02 – or at least that's my reading of it.
Why do these two references to the population mentioned in the same paragraph differ? Which one is correct? Is this a case of poor translation? Or, am I incorrect in my reading, and are they actually not different values – if so, what does each value mean?
1: Clarence Brown is the author of several works on the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. He is editor of The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader, which contains his translation of Zamyatin's short story "The Cave", and of Yury Olesha's novel Envy.
2: The novel uses "record" as a diegetic stand-in for the more typical "chapter".