We the Living, by Ayn Rand examines the survival of the individual spirit in a world that demands allegiance to a collective mentality.
The novel, set in Russia in 1922, immediately after the revolution, portrays the struggle of three young people to hold to their ideals in the face of the bleak new Soviet reality. Kira Arguonova, the 18-year-old main character dreams of a world in which she can realize her dreams. Her lover, Leo Kovalesky rages against a system which systematically chips away at his spirit. Andrei Taganov, a young leader in the Communist party struggles when his faith in the revolution is tested by the venality of the party leadership.
Hunger, fear, and creeping apathy plague all three. Kira, in a struggle to survive, agrees to be Andrei’s mistress in exchange for money to keep herself and Leo alive. As Leo sinks further into cynicism and compromise, his spirit begins to bow to the pressure of a system which demands allegiance to a collective, while turning a blind eye to it’s inequities. Even as everything Kira once loved about Leo disintegrates, she finds herself unable to see the truth, and clings to him with increasing desperation; a desperation which will not allow her to see that it is in fact Andrei who is emerging as a stronger example of the human spirit. Her blindness ultimately puts all three on a tragic course.
We the Living was Ayn Rand’s first novel, preceding the more well known novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, however its powerful portrayal of the magnificence of the human spirit, shines just as clearly.
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