Review: We the Living

We the Living We the Living by Ayn Rand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. Are you a conscientious citizen? Do you continually sacrifice your life and your energy to help the state and your fellow compatriots? Then you'll fit right in, here in Soviet Russia. But poor Kira cannot. Kira Argounova and her family have been dispossessed from their bourgeoisie life and now spend their time trying to find work, access to food, and shelter.

Welcome to Bolshevik Russia in the early 1920’s. In one of Ayn Rand’s first literary attempts, she explores life in an all too familiar setting for the Russian-born immigrant. This audiobook relates to listeners the world in which Ayn Rand grew up in. In regards to this novel, Ayn Rand has commented upon the fact that while it is not an actual autobiography of her life, it certainly is as close to a philosophical autobiography that her fans will ever see. In “We the Living,” listeners discover the initial thoughts and beliefs that would lead to her exploration of objectivism—a philosophy deeply at odds with the communist regime.

Shortly in the story, Kira falls for Leo, a discontented and highly suspicious character in the eyes of the communist regime. With his father being an expatriate, government agents eye the man very carefully. By association, Kira too fall suspect to investigation, yet this is conveniently stopped due to the personal interest of Andrei, who has the potential to be a party leader some day. The ensuing love triangle takes many complicated forms leaving Kira with few choices but a certain determination common among Rand’s protagonists. Among her choices, she must choose who to love and how to love that person. Knowing the repercussions of her actions, Kira must give up her family, friends and the life she has always known for ideals that she knows in her heart is right. More than just struggling for her love with Leo, she is struggling for her ability to exist on her terms rather than the communist regime.

Unlike Rand’s later novels, Kira exists in a communist country instead of the story dealing with the country’s transition to a socialist agenda. While Rand’s later novels show her characters preventing and fighting the changing regime, “We the Living” examines how one with an objectivist philosophy learns to exist in such a place.

Fans of Ayn Rand will find that while this was one of Rand’s first literary attempts to explain her philosophy, it is probably the most attainable. In Kira, listeners are able to relate and attain the qualities which Rand so admirable. Listeners may aspire to John Galt and Howard Roarke, but being able to operate on their level in this world seems impossible. “We the Living” shows us on a smaller level how to attain such greatness. Kira may appear weaker in comparison, but truly, she becomes an attainable ideal for listeners.

The reading by Mary Woods is quite agreeable, however, the editing for this audiobook is not up to par with many of Blackstone Audio’s other products. At times you can clearly hear the cut of a stopped recording and sometimes from one sentence to the next, the entire tone and projection is changed. Woods performs quite well, never stumbling over the Russian names and places which at times are quite intimidating and next to impossible to repeat without messing up. She also manages to capture the Rand tone with characters who to all outward appearances are stoic but in their voice convey so much thought and emotion.

“We the Living” can be harder to get into than her other audiobooks. She has weighed down the story with many long and foreign names and set a scene not all listeners can follow so easily. But persevering listeners will be well rewarded with another great story if they can wade through the first two or three hours and enjoy the remaining 16 or so hours.

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