Wednesday, March 2, 2011

We The Living

As some of you already know, I'm on an Ayn Rand binge right now.  At first, I was a little reluctant to jump in to her fictions because the scenery is just so different from the usual English hillsides or fantasy settings I'm used to.  The stark black and white of the 1917 Revolution in modern-day Russia, the hollow cities, the sickly and oppressed peoples of Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg), food lines and the G.P.U. -- these were all new story-settings to me.

I've read Dostoevsky before, and some of Turgnev.  I have a deep fondness for Russian authors.  But when I set-out to read Rand's works, I knew I was in for something different.  I wasn't sure if I would like her writings because there are so many bipolar opinions about her style, her philosophy, her narrative, her intentions, etc.  So from the get-go, I was hesitant.  It's quite easy to enjoy universally acclaimed authors such as Dickens, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Collins, Eliot, et al. because they are enjoyed by almost everyone.  Rand's writings, however, are generally classed to either ends of the extremes "Hate it" or "Love it."

Well, after taking the plunge with Rand's novella, Anthem, I fed my curiosity a little more with her first full-length novel, We The Living.  Published in 1936, We The Living enjoyed limited success (3000 copies).  After Rand's international sensation, Atlas Shrugged (which is presently being made into a movie), We The Living was republished and sold 3-million copies.  And after having just read We The Living, I can understand why it skyrocketed to best-seller levels.

Without giving too much away about the story, it is a vivid capture of life in Bolshevik Russia, after the October Revolution of 1917.  Kira Argounova, the story's heroine, struggles as an individual against the machinations of the Soviet state.  Her brave and iron-cast ideals give her the strength to persist in the face of a deep romance with a handsome maverick, Leo Kovalensky, and the constant dangers of being close friends with a young officer of the G.P.U., Andrei Taganov.

That is as much of the story as I'm willing to write about because I think it is a story that has to be read.  Parsing the details anymore than I already have would have the infelicitous effect of giving too much away.  And believe me, with the way the story moves and grows, it would be a pity to give it away in a mild review, such as this one.

In the end, between the extremes noted earlier, I have so far landed on "Love it."  It is my understanding that Rand's particular views on philosophy, politics, human nature, art, sex, and many other hot-button issues becomes more articulated in her later novels, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged.  For now, however, for fear of saturating my enjoyment of Rand, I have moved on to Ken Follett's classic, A Place Called Freedom.  I'm already 50+ pages into the book and absolutely enthralled!

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