Tuesday, December 16, 2008 By: Suzanne

We the Living

I finished reading We the Living, the first novel by Ayn Rand, a few days ago but have not written about yet simply because I didn't know what to say. First off I will say that read The Fountainhead about ten years ago and loved it. It changed me. It is the book that made me interested in fiction with a purpose. I have been a fan of Fantasy and Sci-fi all my life and had been putting aside practically everything else. Directly after reading this I read 1984. It is odd that in school they make us read Animal Farm instead. I understand all the symbolism and blah, blah, blah of the book, but 1984 makes a much bigger impact. It is what made me begin to sit up and take notice of the world around me. I began watching the news and trying to figure out our political system, because no one in school ever made it make sense, even with all their history and civics classes.

So, I was obsessed with the characters from The Fountainhead for a long time after reading it. Years. I'm not joking. I still think about this book and the main character's view on life and the world around him quite often. Maybe it's because I've never been good at kissing ass and trying to be friendly to the "right" people. In junior and high school that meant I'd never be popular. In college it meant my professors (especially my music history and band director) did not look at me as their favorites. There's a surprising amount of ass-kissing that goes on in music departments. I was just trying to get my degree and move on. I kind of related to Howard Roark.

So, looking back it is very surprising that I never read Ayn Rand's first novel. (On a side note, I also recently found out her name is NOT pronounced like Ann but like I-an). Maybe I was afraid it would not make as big an impact. Maybe I wasn't ready for more mind opening ideas. Maybe I needed to digest what I had just read first. I don't know, but I never read any other novels by her. I read about her philosophy and other things but no other novels. Until now. I was inspired recently by quotes from a person I went to college with in another discussion on The God Delusion to take it up. Or at least one of her other novels.

Rand states about We the Living: "It is as near 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 convictions, her values, were and are."

Kira is 18 years old, living in the early years of Soviet Russia when the book begins. She truly does not care about the political climate of her country. She doesn't care about much of anything that is not directly related to her getting what she wants: a degree as an architect. She states that she wants to build bridges of aluminum, and believes she will one day. Nothing is more important to her than that, until she meets Leo. Leo is mysterious and idealistic. He opens her up to the possibility of something else being important in the world. Her love for Leo leads her to do things she would never otherwise do. The love of another man for her brings complications beyond her imagining. Andrei is a communist who believes whole-heartedly in the ideals that began the revolution. He was involved in bringing the revolution about. Leo's father was executed for being a counter-revolutionary. Kira is caught not between two men but between to extreme ideals. She wants to fight against the communists but their treatment of the people have taken a toll on Leo and he changes. Not for the better. She doesn't know how to fight in the face of this. Andrei's staunch support of the original revolutionaries sets him in opposition to the corrupt individuals who have wormed their way to the top of political system. He also changes because of Kira. For the better.

I will not give away anymore of the plot except to say this story does not have a happy ending. I want to leave you with a quote from Kira, another character that I believe will live with me for a long time. This quote is not about the unhappy ending. That is something else.

The doctor said he was going to die. And I loved him. He didn't need much. Only rest, and fresh air, and food. He had no right to that, had he? Your state said so. We tried to beg. We begged humbly. Do you know what they said? There was a doctor in a hospital and he said he had hundreds on his waiting list...You see, you must understand this thoroughly. No one does. No one sees it, but I do, I can't help it, I see it, you must see it, too. You understand? Hundreds. Thousands. Millions.... And they had a chance to go on living. But not Leo... That is why you had sentenced him to death, and others like him, an execution without a firing squad. There was a big commissar and I went to see him. He told me that a hundred thousand workers had died in the civil war and why couldn't one aristocrat die - in the face of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics?


Anonymous said...

That sounds interesting. It kind of reminded me of War and Peace - which I haven't read yet. It's on my list.

Tonya said...

I haven't read War and Peace either but I found this wonderful site that has free audiobook downloads of books in the public domain. War and Peace is one of them. If you're into audiobooks, check it out: http://librivox.org/newcatalog/search.php?title=war+and+peace&author=&status=all&action=Search

Anonymous said...

I will - thanks! I just finished reading David Copperfield. Finally! I'm about fifty pages into Gulliver's Travels now. I'm hoping to finish it by Christmas because for part of my Christmas, I'm getting The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring series - along with the movies. I'm also getting The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Actually, books are what hubby and I always give each other for special occasions - birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas - even Valentine's Day!

LCE said...

it's interesting that half of your review is just your feelings about Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead. It reminds me very much of how I feel about John Steinbeck, especially the Grapes of Wrath. I spent years thinking (well, honestly, worrying) about the fate of the Joads. They have recently come back to me with the recession and discussions about the Great Depression.

But, to get back to the point, I find it incredibly hard to talk about John Steinbeck in a logical way because I'm so emotionally invested in the writing and the characters that it gets in the way. I don't think this is a bad thing either, sometimes such passion can be contagious. As a person who very much enjoyed The Fountainhead you've rekindled my interest in Ayn Rand.

Tonya said...

I didn't plan to write so much about The Fountainhead but I simply wasn't sure what to write about this book. I greatly enjoyed it (if enjoyed can be used for a book like this) but everything with Ayn Rand for me is wrapped up with The Fountainhead, and I'm afraid it always will be. I'm glad you also loved the book.