Edited after a re-read on 01.06.2007

"We the living" is Rand's first novel, describing the life in post-revolution Soviet Union in a semi-autobiographic manner. In Rand's own words - "The plot is invented, the background is not... The specific events of Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values, were and are."

It is a story of Kira - a young girl from a bourgeois family that is coping with the new life of the Proletariat. Kira is a typical Rand protagonist - not very far in convictions from Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart. She is determined to preserve her individuality and the sanctity of her life as a human being, especially in light of the organized attempts to turn all people into a homogeneous herd of comrades.

The story-telling is, as always, beautiful - in this book it's even enhanced by the realism. This novel is more historic than Rand's other works, it describes the lives of people in Soviet Russia in the 1920's pretty well. The depiction of the difficulties people who didn't want to give in to "the Party" had are especially enlightening. It is amazing that Rand wrote this novel when she was only 25 - it is certainly an exceptionally good piece of writing, masterfully intermixing history, human relations, drama, tragedy and ideology.

What I liked most in this book is Rand's harsh rebuttal of communism. In one memorable scene, Andrei (the Communist) tells Kira (from memory, so it's not accurate) "I know what you think - you must be admiring our ideals but hating our methods". "I hate your ideals" was Kira's answer. Rand rightfully claims that Communism is impossible exactly because of its ideals - people are individualistic in their core, trying to impose collectivism upon them is like shoving a square brick into a round hole. It's not that Communism is "nice in theory but bad in practice". Communism is bad in theory. It can't work. Not with the way the human brains and psychology evolved.

Since I've already read all Rand's other novels, I can clearly feel that when she wrote this one, her ideas weren't fully formed yet. Thus this book is weaker than Atlas Shrugged, for instance. But it's still very worth a read, at least for its historic value. I also didn't like her view on relationships, which is clearly displayed in Kira's love life. I guess that Rand's protagonists are problematic from the romantic point of view in all her novels, but I somehow assumed it was just caused by her author's own life experience. However, as she wrote "We the living" in a young age, I tend to believe that the effect is actually the cause - it can be that Rand's untraditional views on relationships - the ones reflected in her novels - impeded her own success in real life.