We The Living…

There are few authors whose lives and works are mired in controversy, right from the inception of their literary careers. Ayn Rand, Russia born American novelist, fits the above description neatly. Her Philosophy of Objectivism is the stuff literary folk lore is made of. One of the few articulate champions of capitalism, she is revered by many of liking of Alan Greenspan, former US Fed chief, who quotes her books having seminal influence on him through out his life. Her other two works – The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged propelled her into the top echelons of literary circles.


Her debut novel “We the living” deals with the living conditions that prevailed in Soviet Union .It is often touted as the semi-autobiographical account of the authors life. Very few books match the description of the nation which no longer exists on this planet .The book gives a complete run down on the life of people and also tries to give an insight into the inner workings of the people especially youth of that time


Ayn Rand has used the protagonist Kira- an eighteen year old girl’s struggle against state oppression, as a symbol of human resistance against all odds. A budding engineer, who wants to accomplish a lot but only for her own sake, she is a downright antithesis of the prevailing norms of, working for the social good. The book is a direct attack on dictatorship and anything that circumscribes human freedom.


A fortuitous meeting with Leo, another revolutionary, changes the course of her life and they are romantically entangled. Her friendship with Andrie, the GPU agent who loves Kira, further adds layer to this labyrinth. The book also traverses through the lives of Leo and Andrei, and depicts their moral collapse in the face of dire circumstances which squarely challenges their ideologies. People like Leo, who are revolutionary and idealist, get broken by the circumstances, while Andrei commits suicide when the knowledge dawns on him that his ideals were intrinsically flawed.


The book’s essence can be summed up in the lines delivered by Kira, that there is something best in each one of us which should not be touched any external hand and we should strive to protect it. Things one can say: This is mine. She meets a fatal end when trying to flee the country to seek refuge abroad. She tenaciously sticks to her ideals and remains incorrigible till the end.


One thing about the book that interests me is although the book is set in far away time of Soviet Union, it is able to connect to anyone who has firm faith in democracy and freedom. The theme of the book transcends geography, gender, race, religion and morphs into a theme having universal overtones.


Unlike her other novels, ‘We the living’ is not voluminous and has no lengthy speeches and sermons. The style of the book is simple and at no point does it become didactic. It is because of its simplicity that it is able to deliver the message across the readers. I think the book is a must read for those who want to know about the ideologies of Ayn Rand and place importance on the desire to live life on their own terms..


Geetu Batra

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