We the Living

ISBN: 0451187849
ISBN 13: 9780451187840
By: Ayn Rand Leonard Peikoff

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About this book

Ayn Rand said of her fist novel, We the Living: "It is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write. The plot is invented, the background is not....The specific events of Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values, were and are."First published in 1936, the theme of this classic novel is the struggle of the individual against the state. It portrays the impact of the Russian Revolution on three human beings who demand the right to live their own lives an pursue their own happiness. It tells of a young woman's passionate love, held like a fortress against the corrupting evil of a totalitarian state.We the Living is not a story of politics, but of the men and women who have to struggle for existence behind the Red banners and slogans. It is a picture of what those slogans do to human beings. What happens to the defiant ones? what happens to those who succumb.Against a vivid panorama of political revolution and personal revolt, Ayn Rand shows what the theory of socialism means in practice.This 60th Anniversary edition includes a new Introduction by Ayn Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff.Description from back cover

Reader's Thoughts

Jack Gardner

I really don't know that there is much I can say about this novel that hasn't already been said. We The Living is the most tragic of Ayn Rand's novels and possibly the most under appreciated. While it is clearly an early effort for her - her use of English is occasionally off and her style is not consistent throughout the novel - the story line is the most (I hate to use this word, but I can't think of a better way to put it) realistic of all her novels. There are no amazing machines or amazing feats in We The Living, the most amazing thing that anyone does is survive under the early Communist rule. However, the survivors are the villains of the book. Rand never allows her heroes to exist under tyranny. Kira and Andrei struggle against it in their own individual ways, one choosing death over a life of lost ideals and the other dying in an attempt to escape. Holding on to the idea of the individual must have been impossible in early Communist Russia. Rand should know - she escaped Russia in 1926. We The Living is probably one of the most accurate pieces of literature we have to depict what life was like under the initial Communist regimes. The 'great idea' that fueled the Revolution of 1917 turned in to what can only be called a 'great mess' that lasted for nearly 80 years and has still not completely resolved itself. If you are interested in life in the 1920's, We the Living is a must read book. The people of Russia had a very different experience with this decade compared to those of Europe and the US. While for much of the decade the big cities of the Western world were the Land of Plenty, the general Russian population was suffering hardships that made the poorest mid-western farmer seem to be living the life of a King. We the Living is a testament to man's ability to survive. It is a testament to Rand and held the seeds to her philosophy. It is an encouragement to all of us to strive to be the best we can be - even when the world is against us. It is also a warning to reason before revolt and to express as opposed to repress. You can take away an mans home, you can take away his possessions, you can take away his family, you can take his life, but his mind and soul are his and his alone unless he chooses to give them to you. It is a reminder to all of us, that every individual has that choice to make every day.

Sporkurai

Erotica at its best. We the Living is about a young lady with a brilliant mind and a ferocious appetite for sex. The book begins with Kira, a hot little harlot who might have been working at a strip joint (if they weren't so damn bourgeois!), as she seeks to find a nightlife for herself in her newly Soviet city of Petrograd. Posing as a prostitute in a red light district, she quickly forms her first life-long sexual bond with the first guy who comes along. He happens to be a philosopher, and that's how this book meets its philosophy quota. Over time, her close personal friendship with a secret police agent (WTF?!?) becomes sexual, and the real story begins. Truly, trying to masquerade as faithful to multiple sexual partners is something we can all relate to. A must read for any hip cat.

Lora Grigorova

We the Living: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20...We the Living by Ayn Rand is not another book about the communist rule in the USSR. It is not another propaganda or criticism. It is merely a novel about the Man against the State, about the continuous human struggle for individual happiness and satisfaction against the artificially installed responsibility towards society, about dictatorship whether it is in Soviet Russia or in Nazi Germany.Ayn Rand (Alisa Rosenbaum) is one of the most influential American writers and philosophers. Born in Soviet Russia, she emigrated in 1925 to the USA. We the Living is published in 1936, followed by The Fountainhead and her masterpiece Atlas Shrugged. Rand is famous for her philosophy objectivism, which encompasses the following postulates: 1) reality exists regardless of consciousness; 2) individuals connect with reality through sense perception; 3) the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the achievement of one’s happiness or rational self-interest; 4) laissez faire capitalism is the only social system, which values individual rights and is consistent with this philosophy; 5) art is the transformation of one’s metaphysical ideas into a physical form, which can be comprehended and responded to.Rand’s philosophy is largely influenced by her background: she spent her first 20 years in the USSR. In We the Living she depicts the Soviet reality after the 1917 Revolution, where human individuality is suppressed in favor of the greater social good. People are supposed to be equal (for those of you having never lived in a communist regime that means equally poor and deprived) yet some are more equal than others (if you know what I mean). Kira Argunova, the protagonist, is born in bourgeois family, which is a subject of constant suppression by the ruling communist regime. She is expelled from university, where she studies engineering, she has to pretend to believe in and love communism in order to receive the food coupons, and she is forced to live in poverty. Kira falls in love with a revolutionist, but she loses the war against society – at the end Leo’s mind is corrupted; he becomes a faithless hopeless alcoholic. Andrey, her communist friend, is disillusioned by the discrepancy between communist theory and practice in the USSR. At the end Kira decides to flee her home country only to realize she can never escape the regime.Read more: http://readwithstyle.wordpress.com/20...

Rob

This book helped clear up some of Rand's religious philosophy. At one point, the Heroin asks a friend if he believes in God. When the friend answers no, she says that was the right answer, because if you believe in God then you don't believe in life. She goes on to explain that when people believe in God they believe in something higher than themselves that they can never achieve, and she doesn't want to believe that there is something she can never achieve. I found her reason for being an atheist ironic.

Izzy Echartea

All Kira Argounova wanted to do was to live her life to the fullest, but being under a collectivist dictatorship, she was restricted to nothing more than what the government wanted. Ayn Rand does a powerful job of showing her readers the struggle between the human spirit and wanting more and the chilling consequences of doing so by the government. Much like Anthem, The Fountainhead, and her most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, Rand expresses how much individual freedom and the right to one's own personal happiness means to her in We The Living. The story is set in Soviet Russia during the Communist Revolution, a time when even love was forbidden. Kira Argounova is the main character and heroine of this story. Throughout her journey, Rand's audience sees the constant trials that Kira has to make and how she does so, from starvation to ludicrous love triangles, the readers are shown how difficult life was for the people of Soviet Russia. I gave We The Living four stars because I was constantly enthralled by the circumstances and I believe that not only did Rand show Kira's views of the dystopian society, but she also conveyed her thoughts through Kira, as well. This novel was a great read for me and I most definitely recommend it to my peers.

Lo

I'm going to kind of branch out here and do a different review and talk just what I felt strongly about in this book. If you would like a brief summary, wikipedia does an excellent job.Anyways, this book was one of the most devastatingly beautiful books I've ever read. The scene between Irina and Sascha broke my heart - it's one of the moments where, in typical Rand fashion, she weaves her characters into such real but horrendously tragic situations you just weep. I would recommend this book to some who is either (a) lacking motivation in their life (b) wants to know more from a fictional perspective what communism is like to live in (c) has had their heart broken by an ideal (d) Rand lovers. I want to focus on the love triangle of Andrei-Kira-Leo here. What this book gets at is three types of love and the chaos that descends from them. For Andrei, it's infatuation. Oh Andrei, he's wonderful. The more the book progresses, the more you just want to remove him from the story line and rescue him from the horrors contained in this book. He's the dashing communist who falls in love with the revolutionary Kira, a woman of pure passion and ideals. He fights it, but his infatuation for this woman who encompasses everything he has ever wanted in a woman takes over and turns him into her pawn. Eventually, he breaks free, giving the ultimate sacrifice to Kira to show his "unending" (re: completely obsessive) love for her. Ultimately he (well, spoiler) loses, he takes his own life unable to bear to live without Kira. Weak. So, Kira; Yes, our strong female lead, modelled after Rand herself. She's beautiful, talented, intelligent, and most importantly she wants to live and experience more than anything. The fight and drive of this girl is incredible and truly inspirational. What's her flaw? While posing as a hooker one night, she "meets her one" Leo. She does everything for Leo on his command. At first, things are beautiful between them - they are each other's halves. They don't do things based on other's opinions, they act according to their passion (which is primarily for each other). Kira loves Leo, even after his transformation (going to Crimea), where Leo changes drastically. Although carrying on a passionate affair with Andrei, she is loyal (I know, it's a paradox) to Leo always and that is the one ember that keeps her going, this all encompassing love. Even when Leo breaks her heart, she takes it (and takes it out on other people) and continues to passionately love him. Really weak. Kira, starting out promising, ends up being the most disappointing female Rand character yet. Her strength < her idealistic obsession with Leo. Ugh. And Leo. He starts out wonderful, as I said, Kira's other half. However, he gives up on everything at one point. He may have loved Kira at one point, but he never loves her above himself. I think the ending here with Leo was a little farfetched, but essentially, Leo is an entirely selfish being. I give Kira this, the point Rand is trying to make is that without communism, Leo would have been the man for Kira, the one she first met. However, after he loses all hope, he becomes an alcoholic and mentally abusive towards Kira (especially in his frustration over her being the breadwinner). Leo becomes a character towards the end that you shake your head at and wonder how someone could be so ungrateful and so miserable. If only Kira had gone abroad with Andrei to live happily forever. But that isn't the way Rand wanted it; she wanted to show two things. One, obviously, communism is evil (duh, it's a Rand book) and (2) blinding love will destroy who you are. I think she tries to redeem Kira in the end there, but Kira's failure to pursue the life of her dreams is a total failure in my mind, and she sacrificed all her opportunities for a glimmer of the Leo she first new. That is not solid advice to offer the younger generations Miss Rand, but at least in my mind, she conveys this solidarity in true love (Irina and Sascha) vs the destructive love (Andrei, Kira). Read if you get a chance; The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have better defined characters, yet as Rand's first novel, We the Living leaves its mark on the reader.

Kendra Kettelhut

I just finished this book. My soul has never been so pained by a novel. Very few books affect me like this one did. I cannot explain other than it was so beautifully horrific. I knew very little about Communism or what the USSR was like. It caused so much anger and frustration in me, but the pain comes from the truths that it enlightens about humanity. We are creatures of pain and suffering and joy and and triumph. And no matter what pain we are dealt...we still have the capacity within ourselves to find the beauty and will that makes us go on; life. This is the first Ayn Rand novel I have read. It is her first novel. I would highly recommend this. It is an inventment of your soul, so read this when you have the endurance to enjoy Ayn Rand's We The Living.

sologdin

Part VIII of a multi-part review series.Anti-communists in early Soviet Russia very astonishingly come to bad end. Introduced by Peikoff, who claims that Rand’s first novel was, instead of this one, almost “set in an airship orbiting the earth” (v) which would’ve been kinda cool, except now we have Against the Day, which likely would’ve embarrassed Rand’s hypothetical effort as much as Solzhenitsyn humiliates this one.Rand’s own forward contains the normal cacogogic posturing. For instance:“Writers are made, not born. To be exact, writers are self-made” (xiii);Neo-spenglerianism: “The rapid epistemological degeneration of our present age” (xiv);“The Naturalist school of writing consists of substituting statistics for one’s standard of value” (id.);A nice admission regarding the maturity of her ideas: “I am still a little astonished at times, that too many adult Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism as clearly as I understood it at the age of twelve: they continue to believe that only Communist methods are evil, while Communist ideals are noble” (xv);To support her juvenile contention that the soviet system is unable to produce anything, she answers Sputnik and the Soviet nuclear program with “Read the story of ‘Project X’ in Atlas Shrugged“ (xvi). So, even here, in her first novel, we do not escape the constant refrain of spurious John Galt glossings.She concludes the forward with “The specific events of [protagonist’s] life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are” (xvii). This statement is stunning in two respects: the first discredits any and all “events” recorded in the novel--I was initially willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as a Russian ex-pat, that some of the events described may have a factual basis. But she has thrown the “events” of the novel under the train. It accordingly lacks credibility as a document reflecting historicity.The second respect is that, even while distancing herself from the events described, she adopts protagonist’s ideology. Protagonist goes on to record the following observations, which should be considered as incorporated by reference in extenso to author’s ideology:Defining the relevant class position: protagonist’s family once owned a textile factory, which was nationalized (21), and protagonist once lived in a “vast mansion” and “had an English governess” (45);“From somewhere in the aristocratic Middle Ages, [protagonist] had inherited the conviction that labor and effort were ignoble” (49);Regarding the Russian Revolution: protagonist did depose and state that “It is an old and ugly fact that the masses exist and make their existence felt. This is a time when they make it felt with particular ugliness” (58) (my only question is how the Evil Bolsheviks held off on shooting her until page 460?);Affirmed that protagonist believes in “miracles” (61); Regarding the “Internationale”: “She tried not to listen to the words. The words spoke of the damned, the hungry, the slaves, of those who had been nothing and shall be all; in the magnificent goblet of the music, the words were not intoxicating as wine; they were not terrifying as blood; they were gray as dish water” (73);Protagonist adopts Rand’s comment from the preface regarding the distinction between methods and ideals: “I loathe your ideals” (89), said to a GPU agent, which inexplicably does not get her shot in this Evil Empire tale;Reveals herself to be a real peach: “Can you sacrifice the few? When those few are the best? Deny the best its right to the top--and you have no best left. What are your masses but millions of dull, shriveled, stagnant souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the words others put into their brains? And for those who would sacrifice the few who know life, who are life? I loathe your ideals because I know no worse injustice than the giving of the undeserved. Because men are not equal in ability and one can’t treat them as if they were. And because I loathe most of them” (90)--we should compare Mussolini’s comments from a 1922 article (anthologized in Italian Fascisms From Pareto to Gentile): “The sun of the Russian myth has already set. Light is no longer shining from the East, where terrible news of death and famine is coming out of Russia; we are receiving desperate appeals by socialists and anarchists in Petrograd against Lenin's reactionary policies. Professor Ulianov is now a Tsar scrupulously following the internal and external policies of the Romanovs. The former Basle professor did not perhaps imagine that he would end up as a reactionary; but obviously governments have to suit themselves to those they govern and the enormous human army of Russians--patient, resigned, fatalistic and oriental--is incapable of living in freedom; they need a tyrant; now more than ever, they, like every other people in fact, even those in the West, are anxiously looking for something solid in their institutions, ideas, and men, havens where they can cast anchor for a while and rest their souls, tired out with much wandering.” Coupled with Mussolini’s concept that fascism is managed inequality, with rule by the elite, the triumph of the few over quantity, it is readily apparent that Rand’s politics are one-part fascistic, at least in their assumptions, if not in their overall policy preferences. She may rant about individualism, whereas fascism specifically opposes individualism, but conceptually the misanthropy is substantially identical, as is the basis for the opposition to left economics.In the midst of world historical occurrences, protagonist laments the lack of compliments for “her new dress” (98), obsesses over “lipstick and silk stockings” (119), and files a civil case over some converted home furnishings (180), which case is lost;She resents “novels by foreign authors in which a poor, honest worker was always sent to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed the starving mother of his pretty young wife who had been raped by a capitalist and committed suicide thereafter, for which the all-powerful capitalist fired her husband from the factory, so that their child had to beg on the streets and was run over by the capitalist’s limousine with sparkling fenders and a chauffeur in uniform” (136-37) (does that book actually exist?);She is very proud of herself “that she was actually corrupting a stern Communist. She regretted that the corruption could go no further” (157); And on and on. There’re egregiously annoying bits on protagonist throughout, but do I need to report any more? Safe to conclude, rather , that she’s horrible (and that conclusion has nothing to do with maintaining two separate sexual relationships simultaneously), and that her ideas and convictions are author’s ideas and convictions, as stated in the forward, the misanthropic ideas and fascistic convictions. Good job!Novel otherwise has a number of amusing defects:The NEP is noted to be a “temporary compromise,” which appears to me to misstate the relationship between so-called war communism and the new economic policy (32) (and again at 308-09);Predicts with hope the fascist invasion of Russia: “Do you think Europe is blind? Watch Europe. She hasn’t said her last word yet. The day will come--soon--when these bloody assassins, these foul scoundrels, that Communist scum” (38);It is asserted that “Czar Alexander II had magnanimously freed” the Russian serfs (48);And so on. There’s plenty to criticize, and I lack the energy. Suffice it to say that the criticism of left policy here is less about its proper function (as alleged in Atlas Shrugged) and more about the deviation from policy, as noted in a “breach of party discipline” (104) and in a litany of abuses of non-doctrinal nature (321-22), and again in communist apparatchik conspiracy with aristocrat boyfriend later (394 ff.);Slavophile philosopher proclaims at one point that Russia “has lost [its future] in materialistic pursuits. Russia’s destiny has ever been of the spirit. Holy Russia has lost her God and her Soul” (154);Protagonist’s boyfriend tells her other boyfriend that “I’m studying philosophy […] because it’s a science that the proletariat of the RSFSR does not need at the moment” (155);A fairly dismissive attitude toward human suffering: “Petrograd had known sweeping epidemics of cholera; it had known epidemics of typhus, which were worse; the worst of its epidemics was that of ‘John Gray,’” which is apparently some form of popular dance (id.)—I’d’ve thought that the human suffering should be the point of an anti-communist writing;One of protagonist’s boyfriend’s alleges “the essential immutability of human nature,” a comical conceit (302);Has communists expressing their “idealism” (309), which is not a Marxist doctrine, of course (we could be charitable and assume that the commies doing the expressing are incorrect doctrinally, I suppose—but then that weakens the Atlas Shrugged critique that the failures of communism arise from its correct implementation);Novel misunderstands or misrepresents the Leninist theory of democratic centralism in such comments as “why do you think you are entitled to your own thoughts? Against those of the majority of your collective?” (311)—leninist centralism is not necessarily something that I’d endorse, but this is a bogtus caricature;Protagonist’s second boyfriend crumbles ideologically for no apparent reason, just up and throws in the towel, presumably after pre-reading Atlas Shrugged, considering that he has adopted part of Galt’s rant: “We were to raise men to our own level. But they don’t rise, the men we’re ruling, they don’t grow [this, merely in 1925!], they’re shrinking. They’re shrinking to a level no human creatures ever reached before [!!!]. And we’re sliding slowly down into their ranks. We’re crumbling, like a wall, one by one. Kira, I’ve never been afraid. I’m afraid, now. It’s a strange feeling. I’m afraid to think. Because…because I think, at times, that perhaps our ideals have had no other result” (334), which is a line of revelation not earned by any preparatory work in the novel whatsoever. Didn’t Rand state that she abhors the undeserved? This character reversal and recantation is one of the most undeserved that I can recall.Anyway: a more or less dull, tendentious, below average novel, made horrible by author’s marginal contributions. Full of laments from dispossessed Russian aristocrats, which we are apparently to take seriously--protagonist’s primary boyfriend is a dispossessed aristocrat. Presentations of Soviet propaganda items falls flat, insofar as they are not typically manifestly insane, but sound in the same register as any other state’s propaganda, which normally ranges from boringly true (“Just Say No to Drugs!”) to blatantly self-serving and thus readily identifiable and disregardable (“The Leader is Good!”). Problem is that the tendentious anti-communist conclusion is not well supported by the facts of the novel, which records deviations from communist party discipline and reinforces the communist propaganda that saboteurs, traitors, and speculators were fucking up the economy. That kind of inconsistency is less than persuasive. Recommended for those who miss their priceless pieces of antique porcelain, readers who smuggle human flesh out of this wolf trap, and Sir Galahads of the blackmail sword.

Paris Reynolds

Scary, scary book stemming from Rand's hatred of socialism. I hate to think that this is the closest thing to an autobiography she ever wrote. All of Ayn Rand's books have had an impact on my life after reading them, but this one affected me the most. I have never had such strong emotions from reading, watching or listening to anything before. My inner libertarian broke out after I recovered from the depression and I am a rampant believer in capitalism. I cringe at the thought of socialism in any form and I am afraid for this country and the world if they slowly continue to embrace it (again). This book is a real eye opener and although I wish everyone would read it, including our President, I don't wish its immeadiate side effects on anyone.

Anna Chudnovsky

That book made me to experience two opposit feelings. First, it is very well done as a book. Second - all things described is disgasting. The second feeling increased all time while I was reading it because I experienced such soviet reality from my childhood. Noone fresh mind could survived. I felt all kinds of suffocation, from physical to mental and spiritual. Many times during reading I asked myself why I am still do it. For my personal taste I would like to drop the book and never be back finish it. But the point was my friend recommended it to read after "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" which was one of the best books I`ve ever read and really helpful even as it was depressive sometimes. So I was waiting to see resurrection of characters of "We the Living" and my hope was breating till last 5 pages.On the last page I realized everything finished in natural way. No miricle. Nobody creative could survive. My conclusion: if you are interesting in such novels from a distance, read it. If you know what exectly is it in real life, you don`t have to read it. That`s a time machine. So much better to stop at "Atlas Shragged" and "The Fountainhead" and use it as a kind of map to make real life better, more clear, more creative and more productive.

Debbie Petersen

** spoiler alert ** Finally finished late last night. I know Rand is controversial because of her political leanings, but in this book anyway it seems clear to me that her point of view is that the rights of the individual supersede the rights of the state. I agree with her there. The view that man only exists to serve the state (communism) is truly terrifying. My favorite character was not Kira, it was Andrei. I think Kira loved him and did not realize it. She could only think of Leo, who proved himself unworthy of her love and sacrifices on his behalf. Andrei was by far the better and more honorable man, despite being a communist, and truly loved her. I was sad over what Andrei decided to do, but understood. What else can you do when everything you valued and trusted your life to turns out to be false? Kira has the same situation (Leo) and takes the opposite step--toward life and survival. Yet it ends the same for both of them.Probably not the best thing to read if you are already depressed!

Jennifer

The one great benefit of reading We the Living is that it encapsulates pretty exactly what Rand spends many hundreds more pages doing in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead: mainly, hating on the collective, venerating capitalism, and (God help us all) describing how free-thinking women shouldn't be slaves to anyone except their capitalist sexual partners.I find Rand's philosophy beyond problematic, but to my mind We the Living helps explain just how she arrived at the ideas she entertained and became the person she did. It's not precisely an autobiography (only, as she demurs, "in the intellectual sense") but her descriptions of life in Soviet Russia are drawn from personal experience, and it's not difficult to see how that kind of traumatic personal experience could drive someone to the opposite philosophical extreme. I offer no theories whatsoever on what makes her romantic relationships so ridiculously rape-tastic. (Because that way lies madness.) Frankly, your mileage may vary with Rand depending on your political beliefs, but if you have to read something just to be able to engage in a conversation about her, I'd say start here. It's an early work, but I can promise from painful experience that her writing style never improves, so you might as well go for the short one. (And avoid Anthem. For the love of all that's holy, avoid Anthem!)

BirdBrian

Just be yourself.Hasn't that been parents' advice to kids since the dawn of time? Don't try to impress people by putting on a show. Don't just tell people what you think they want to hear. Be who you are, and those who appreciate your genuine character will be true friends. I think this is the only book where Ayn Rand is true to herself, without putting on the big überconservative show which makes her later works so irritating. What's that? You think maybe Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead represent Ayn's true self? Well, I can't prove you wrong, but I don't think that's the case. We the Living doesn't smack of ulterior motives the way those other books do. It contains no larger-than-life robberbaron supermen, no fifteen-page speeches, and no fortunes built on miracle inventions. Where Altas Shrugged was really just a platform to espouse Rand's "philosophy" of Objectivism, We the Living is refreshingly 100% Objectivism-free (see my review of Anthem for more details). Better still, it has authentic three-dimensional characters who seem like they might be actual people Ayn knew. This is historical fiction, after all. Many of these events actually happened.We the Living tells the semi-autobiographical story of college-aged Kira Argounova, whose upper middle class family flees St. Petersburg during the 1917 revolution, and then returns in 1922, trying to make a new life for themselves within the communist system. When they show up at the doorstep of their former townhouse off Nyevsky Prospekt, they discover it has been seized and divided into a multiple-family dwelling. They are advised to apply for a license to live in one of the units if they feel a particular attachment to the old homestead, but as part of the hated former petty bourgeoisie, they should be aware their chances are slim. A similar scene occurs in Doctor Zhivago (but in DZ, the family actually obtains residence in their old home). It seems either such occurances were common, or perhaps Pasternak was influenced by We the Living. Food is rationed. Work is obtained only through a state agency, once the applicant has jumped through the many hoops needed to obtain a work license. Since political loyalty is valued more than ability, Kira discovers that many of her least-promising former classmates have risen to positions of authority over her. They hang around the city's most fashionable bars, dressed to the nines in leather finery unavailable to citizens outside the Party. They smoke tobacco the proles could never get their hands on, and enjoy luxuries like fresh fruit, which Kira secretly covets. Reading through these parts, one can practically feel the resentment rising in Ayn's blood as she writes it. Through a paper-thin veneer of fiction, anybody can see this is her story, narrated very personally, with a ring of truth her other novels lack.Consider how Ayn's life closely mirrors Argounova's: Ayn's father had owned a profitable pharmacy in St Petersburg before the revolution, just as Kira's father owned a successful textiles factory. Both Ayn and Kira's families fled St. Petersburg to the Crimea in 1917, fearing for their daughters' safety. As I said, this novel contains events which actually happened to real people.Ayn and Kira both returned to St.Petersburg (now Petrograd) in 1922, to find the social and political changes described in this book. They each managed to enroll at Petrograd University, after considerable bureaucratic resistance, and both found their career prospects after graduation to be severely limited, due to the continued stigma of their fathers' pre-Revolutionary social status. While both tried to leave the Soviet Union, only Ayn made it to America. Kira died at the border, which demands some explanation. Why did Ayn make the choice as an author to deny Kira a life in the West? Ayn always had a weakness for melodrama; did she kill Kira for the pure intense tragedy of it? Did she think it would put greater empahsis on the injustices of the Soviet system? (view spoiler)[ Why else end the novel with a sympathetic character both bleeding and freezing to death, alone in the dark, in the middle of nowhere? (hide spoiler)] It seems a bit too cruel, even for a novel whose entire point is outrage and cruelty. If you enjoy deriding Ayn Rand's wooden characters or her preachy, didactic writing style, this book won't be much fun for you. But if you're a more thoughtful type, who is curious about where her ideas came from, this is the book that tells it all. Sure, We the Living has hints of the moral certitude that makes Atlas Shrugged so shrill and irksome, but the story is heartfelt and the characters believable. Unfortunately, this best of Rand's novels also happens to be her first, so maybe she should have quit while she was ahead.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Marie Theron

In my reading of good books, I have awarded 5 stars only to a small number of them, but WE THE LIVING is just perfect: the structure, the characters, the story, the language! Has anyone ever described cities and nature in such a way that the reader hangs onto every word? The weather, the poverty, the food become characters of the story. The text is never clingy and sentimental but there is no light relief and throughout the telling the reader is waiting to exhale. It was tense up to the last sentence! There is already that tendency here in Ayn Rand's first novel to create men which are selfish above all else. Ayn Rand actually admired "the Leo types" of the world and such men grow more arrogant in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.As far as history is concerned, what she describes is every autocratic regime in the world. Open a TIME magazine and it is still happening out there. This book will never "date"

Lorrie Savoy

This book disturbs me and I don't quite know how to respond to it. On the one hand, the reality of Soviet Russia in the 1920's is haunting; the descriptions of food (or the lack of it) stayed with me, making me reflect on and enjoy my own meals while I was reading it and for a few days after. I also feel that it would work as a companion piece for 1984 because the tensions between the sordid details of daily life and the hypocrisy of the political system are clearly seen in both books. Rand's philosophy is clear but not too overstated so it is easy to read it simply as a novel, not a political tract. I'm okay with all of that. What I don't care for are the characters themselves. Kira is the worst sort of passive woman; I know I'm supposed to see her as a strong individual, but she is neither. Her goal of being an engineer is not enough to sustain her, and it is barely shown - just stated. It feels like a detail added on after a first draft of the novel to distinguish Rand from Kira (she makes a point of the difference in her introduction). Her passion for Leo is all about being subjugated by him - at one point he is even described as her "slave-owner." Details that were originally used to show how supremely unconnected Kira was from the mundane tribulations of life ("Kira never noticed what she ate" "Kira never noticed what she wore") are reversed the moment that Leo enters the picture - all of a sudden Kira is a fashion plate and wants Leo to notice how she is dressed. All of the details about how Leo can't be subjected to the sight of her cooking or cleaning truly upset me. I know I am approaching this book from a feminist perspective, but what kind of love is only able to be sustained in a perfect atmosphere with no glimpses of the everyday? Leo is loathesome; the words arrogant, contemptuous, and mocking are used in almost every passage about him - and we are supposed to admire him? Like a "young god"? Why? Just because he's hot? Really, that's what it seems to come down to. Most of the minor and background characters are awful - I can't think of a single description of a child that doesn't involve nose-picking. The older women are shrill, the older men are empty shells. Overall, I think the world that is portrayed in We the Living is worth seeing; the characters Rand admires are not my choice for admirable human beings but there are moments in the novel where they go beyond their cardboard versions of Rand's philosophy to show true humanity.

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