Author Ayn Rand is best known for her objectivist novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” but those were not her first forays into fiction, nor were either her first novel. “We the Living” was Rand’s first novel, published in 1936.
In “We the Living,” Rand is still working on the ideals behind her philosophy of objectivism, a philosophy that focuses on the individual and the freedom of the individual and capitalism. The ideals are there in this book, and they’re strong, but it’s obvious she still doesn’t have it all quite worked out yet. But that should not disappoint any of Rand’s fans, because the novel is still entertaining and strong, though admittedly not as dogmatic as her later works.
This novel covers three years, from 1922 to 1925, and the life of one young woman struggling to survive in the first days of the Soviet Union. Life is harsh for everyone, but especially so for an individual who wishes to be free from the restraints and influences of the collective. In an introduction to the novel Rand herself called the book semi-autobiographical, saying it related the world and experiences she knew during her last few years in the U.S.S.R. However, the events portrayed are not supposed to have been based upon real happenings.
Surprisingly, one of the heroes to this novel is a Communist. This is so surprising considering Rand’s vociferous attacks against Communism throughout her career. Perhaps the character was drawn from ideas of someone she knew, perhaps someone who agreed with her philosophically but was not strong enough to live in that vein? Only Rand knew.