Born in Russia in 1905, Ayn Rand witnessed the Russian Revolution and experienced life under communist tyranny firsthand. We The Living (1936) was her first and most personal novel, a work which she said is “as near to an autobiography as I will ever write.”
Set in post-revolutionary Russia, We The Living tells the moving story of three people struggling against Soviet oppression: the novel’s heroine Kira Argounova, a young woman whose fiercely independent spirit rebels against communism; Leo Kovalenksy, the man she loves, whose bourgeois origins mark him as an enemy of the state; and Andrei Taganov, an officer of the Soviet Secret police who is forced to confront the clash between his ideals and the reality of communist life.
The novel’s portrayal of the destructive effects of collectivism reflects Ayn Rand’s focus in her early philosophic thinking on moral and political issues; its theme, she said, is “the individual against the state.” Published (with considerable difficulty) at the height of the Red Decade, American intellectuals’ infatuation with Soviet Russia, We The Living is an indictment not merely of Soviet-style Communism, but of any and every totalitarian state that claims the right to sacrifice the supreme value of an individual human life.
Explaining the autobiographical nature of We The Living, Ayn Rand wrote that “it is not an autobiography in the literal, but only in the intellectual, sense. The plot is invented; the background is not. . . . I was born in Russia, I was educated under the Soviets, I have seen the conditions of existence that I describe. . . . The specific events of Kira’s life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are.”
(Paperback; 464 pages)