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

Angela

I still consider The Fountainhead my favorite Rand work, but We The Living definitely cuts close. As her first novel, it's less preachy and more about the story and the characters than the philosophy. In her words, it is as closest as she ever got to an autobiography. This book sealed my love for Ayn Rand, because it made me understand her, as a person- her passion, her strength, her determination to be her own person. It also gave me what is undoubtedly an accurate history lesson in Communism and Russian pride, which i find truly fascinating. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking in its closeness to reality when it comes to love. And what an epic ending. I think everybody should read this book. And no one should be able to criticize Rand until they've read it.

Daniel Stevens

I really liked this book. The fact that she shows the protagonist going for the villain over the hero is interesting. I know Rand's favorite was the villain, Kovalensky, but I could relate more to the hero, Andrei Taganov. I found that I could relate more with him in the end than even the protagonist, Kira. Kovalensky, I found to be a worthless scoundrel. It's defintely worth a read for both the story as well as the view of what life was like in the early Soviet Union by someone who had actually lived there.

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"]>

Walter

In the foreword that she wrote for the 1959 edition of her own novel "We the Living", Ayn Rand wrote, "I had not reread this novel as a whole, since the time of its first publication in 1936, until a few months ago. I had not expected to be as proud of it as I am." Well, I'm glad that Rand is so proud of her own first novel. As for me, I am less than impressed.The novel takes place between 1922 and 1926, during the turbulent years after the Bolshevik Revolution. Most histories and novels that I have read about that turbulent time tell of a Russia that was struggling for existence, barely legitimate in the eyes of her own citizens, in the midst of an ongoing civil war, and experimenting with a limited form of Capitalism that Lenin euphamistically called the "New Economic Policy." But that's not the Soviet Russia that Rand portrays in "We the Living". Instead, Rand describes a government that is an ultra-efficient in its oppression of its own citizens, which was able to find dissenters who merely think questioning thoughts about the new Soviet reality, and which is able to perform super-human feats to keep their own citizens in line.I find many similarities between "We the Living" and Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle". Both novels were completed earlier in the careers of their authors, who both went on to write more influential works. Both are works of political propaganda. And both portray a world in which the oppressors (who are the evil Chicago capitalists in "The Jungle" and the Soviet government in "We the Living") can completely oppress anyone that they want. Granted that the political views of Sinclair and Rand are very different. But their political novels are very similar. It's ironic, isn't it?I am no fan of the Soviet government. I really enjoyed Solzhenitzin's works that detail the oppression of the Soviet Union. I have no doubts that many people suffered from the Soviet tyrrany in the 1920s. But, please, even Solzhenitzin will acknowledge that the Soviet secret police were not Supermen. They could only do so much, in fact, must of the suffering that they caused was not because of their evil intent but rather because of their incompetence.Another problem with Rand's novel is the same problem that exists in Rand's more well known novels, "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged." That problem is Rand's political philosophy, which is a strange combination of Nietzche's UberMensch, Bakunin's Anarchism, and a good dose of narcissism. A healthy dose of narcissism. In fact, Rand's philosophy is the worship of the self, the dogma of narcissism. And narcissism, in literature as in life, leads to emptiness and disappointment. "We the Living" is the story of Kira, a young daughter of a man who owned a factory in the days of the Czar, who wants to become an engineer in the new Soviet experiment. She falls in love with another pre-Soviet aristocrat named Leo, and she causes another man, Andrei the Soviet soldier and GPU agent, to fall in love with him. Now, Tolstoy used the device of the love triangle to masterfully tell the story of Anna Karenina in the 19th Century. In that novel, the triangle caused a tremendous amount of agony for Anna and her lovers. But in "We the Living", the love triangle is really no big deal to Kira. When her two lovers find out about each other, bad things happen, as you could imagine. But Kira is not in the least concerned. It's very strange.This novel is heavy with the self-righteousness of Rand's philosophy. That makes it hard to work through most of the time. Granted, there are a few places where the novel looks as though it will become interesting. But it never really does. That's a shame, because Rand has a ton of things to work with, given her setting in 1920s Russia, the love triangle, and her amoral outlook. But she can't get it done. In the end, the novel fizzles and dies. It's very disappointing.I would really not recommend this novel to anyone, unless that person is just absolutely in love with Ayn Rand, and even then it's iffy. If you want to read a great novel about the Russian Revolution, I would recommend Sholokhov's "And Quiet Flows the Don", Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago" or Solzhenitzin's epic trilogy about the First World War and the revolution. It's really not worth reading "We the Living" if you can read any of those works.

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!

J.A.C.H.

This book has a nice storyline told from the perspective of a young woman named Kira,16-18 years old, in the 1920s in Russia. Her family once owned a well to do shop. Her uncle has undying optimism that things will change for the better, and communism will wear out. At first Kira believes in his optimism, but later she sees the futility.Kira's dreams are slowly chipped away. She is kicked out of college, with communism seeking to cleanse itself of anyone associated with wealth as all ownership belongs to the people. Those who began with nothing rise in the party, only to become corrupt.Kira endeavors to leave the country with a new love, Leo. They are caught, but pitied for their young love. They move in together with meager rations. They have three rooms which the state fills with random people. The imagery of poultry rations and random people moving in claiming new ownership is exquisite. I thought it interesting that Kira who is starving never gets pregnant though a communist lady who moves in and has more rations gets pregnant and has an abortion.Leo becomes sick with Tb and Kira's only chance at getting him into a sanatorium is by having an elusive affair with Andrei, a man high in the communist ranks. Leo goes to a sanatorium and survives Tb which makes one wonder about the therapy of sunshine and rest.The love triangle begins. Like many, I hoped Kira would leave Leo for Andrei, but Kira's heart remains with Leo.All characters in the book suffer, none succeed, and many perish. Efforts yield disappointment.If you're looking for a feel good novel, this is not for you, though you may be thankful to live in better circumstances than Kira.

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.

Shanta Shastri

Mind blowing. Heartbreaking. Uncovers all effects when an impossible and irrational ideal is adapted by a country. The Communism.

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.

Parkavi

My first book in 2014! I started this year with my favourite author Ayn Rand.The book is as amazing as her every other book and is slightly different from her other best works as well. Unlike her other books its not about construction of a new world but the destruction of an old world. Its about a war to put an end to the Exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but it actually was a war against political power which exploited not just the citizens, but the comrades as well.Its about a girl who thinks - Be it capitalism, Be it communism, Be it socialism, Be it fascism, I want to live the life the way I want it. No one can teach me how should "I" live "MY" life.Its about comrades whose action contradict their own beliefs. Its about the struggle for living - We The living

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.

Kimberly

Not as good as Atlas Shrugged but infinitesimal better than The Fountainhead.Everything Ayn Rand has written transcends time. This book even more so. If people wonder what the "first free country" will look like if we continue to elect political leaders who have a "death premise", such as we have, all they need to do is read this book and they'll know. I just hope it's not too late.I truly believe if We The Living and Atlas Shrugged had been mandatory reading for JR/Senior High school students, respectively, even as short a time as 10-13 Yrs ago, our country would be going in an entirely different direction. Or at the least we'd be in better position to turn it around. Unfortunately, I believe our children and grandchildren have an unimaginably more difficult fight ahead of them because of the socialistic ideals of the "God-Fearing Mystics" and "Selfless Humanitarians", leaders our generation voted into power,who's ideals are being spread like a plague across this amazing country and turned into policy as this is being written.I wish I could go back in time and show my parents the warnings to look for. But as a Romantic Realist, I know I can only try to change what happens tomorrow and the day after that. And the only way to do that is by spreading the philosophical ideals, the morals and the Life Premise that I learned from Ayn Rand. This story is about as close to an autobiographical account of Ayn Rands life in the USSR as we will ever know. The ideals, the values of our young heroine are all here in young Kira. Her younger sister drew caricatures just as Irena did. The physical description of her Uncle Vasilli is based on her father. The young character Leo, the man Kira loves, is fashioned after AR's first love in college. A character who became so entwined with the real Leo that even though she disliked the name, she couldn't separate the two and couldn't change the name. The Russia she sees...you see. The Russia she lived...you live.This Russia is not a character, but the real backdrop to her story and played a big role in who the person Ayn and "Kira" became. It is a love story. Two totally different men with different lives and seemingly two very different philosophies on life. The only thing they have in common is their "soul" (not a spiritual soul"). These two men, the way the act, react, and how they see life is what draws Kira to them. When the country takes away everything you own, uses you as an example of the worst of humanity, takes away your freedom to be who you are, say what you think, do what you want, live as you want to live ...what do you do?This is the premise of the story. What does communism do to your soul? What will it do to any country and to its people. It crushes their spirit. Destroys the individual with their hopes an dreams and desires. None of these things are allowed in a collective society. Every idea, thought, desire, anything that makes you an individual is stomped out of you. Every breath you take is not your own. It belongs to your comrades, your brothers and sisters. There is no "I" in socialism, communism, totalitarianism, whatever label you give it. There is only We. Spoiler alert.....Ayn Rand takes you from the beginning to the ending of the lives of these 3 young people. You will feel what they feel: joy, pain, disbelief, helplessness, hope, defiance, hopelessness, bitter cold, disgust, fear, courage beyond imagination, love without limits and the utter dispair when everything is lost and you are totally and completely alone.You will go through the ups and downs of the lives they lived, will understand who they are and what they believe in. Will wonder WHY did she do that to a beloved character, cry if you are anything like me at the loss of life and be completely in shock at how the story ends. This is no fairytale, so there is no fairytale ending. You will understand when you read her epilogue why she had to end it as she did. But you will still cry for Kira. For everything she lost and, at the very end, what she found.You only have 3 Choices when you live in a world that crushes who you are. When there's nothing left.1. suicide- it finally breaks you2. close off your mind completely. you don't compromise. you don't bend and you don'tbreak. but who you are disappears and you become an empty void.3. You run away, try to escape. you neither compromise what you believe, bend or break. but you don't give up either. you run until you can't run anymore and you either escape or die trying. but you remain unconquered. Each of these 3 characters took a different road. Each made a different choice and each has a different ending. AR explains why each of the 3 had to go down the road they did. This is a tragic love story but more importantly, it is a tragic "Life" story. A tragedy that seems more and more possible in the country that our original leaders created to be free, one in which we believe the promise that "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness" can not be taken from us. We need to open our eyes. open R

Marn Mg

Being Ayn's first book, she was writing mostly about her own experiences and the USSR communist philosophy's that were killing so many people. She wanted to tell the world (although at the time, sadly, the world would not listen). You don't need to agree with her beliefs to see what horrific crimes were occurring. You can see from future writings that her beliefs are further and more strongly developed after this book. Hence, while future books are more of a story wound around a set of beliefs, We The Living is mostly story (of course, based on real life). We The Living is written in a different style than future books as well, although extremely well written. Gripping and sad, the story reveals a specific point and place in a real history from an insider's perspective - something we are not often privy to.The absolute tyrannical and brainwashing power of the communist government is illustrated in ways such as: you could not get food without a food card, you could not get a food card without being a student in the communist schools teaching their propaganda or without having a job. You couldn't get a job without selling your soul to the communist belief system, by joining a "union" or "club" preaching communist beliefs. You couldn't stay in those unions or clubs without making it known visibly to all around you, constantly, that you felt strongly and lived by those beliefs. Any deviation from such could cost you your membership. This entailed doing things such as "volunteering" after a long day's work to teach children the communist beliefs through propagandistic methods. Everything was documented on papers that you had to carry around. If you didn't have the right approvals or stamps, you weren't accepted by the system and couldn't survive. Although there were no video camera's back then, there were eyes everywhere. Nothing could be easily hidden. In the desperate race for survival, family member was turned against family member. You eventually became a one-thought robot, solely for the purpose of being able to stay alive, to receive a slice of bread or a half pound of mildewy millet for the week. No time or energy was left to be able to keep and maintain your core beliefs. At a certain point the only choice left was to concede your thoughts or concede your life. When one is starving or threatened with imminent instant death, the governmental idea is that one will do anything for any small amount of somewhat edible food or grasp on live. It is eventually easier to just give in to what the government wants. They create an easily controllable population. This was all controlled by endless detailed paperwork, citizen files and people turning against other people; and how easy it was for the USSR government. Imagine how many millions of times easier this would be in this present-day future, with the internet, computers, programming, coding, video cameras, and endless ways to keep track of everyone's beliefs, on goings and day-to-day lives. Endless ways to distribute propaganda. Endless ways to control food, water, shelter and life through already existing government control on farms, water, means of transportation and fuel, heat, energy, banks, corporations, etc. It would not take much in the world of today, and every day it gets easier and easier.

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.

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.

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