Anne C. Heller’s new biography offers fascinating glimpses of the influences that helped shape not only Ayn Rand’s life, but also certain aspect of her novels. It’s a book you’ll want to read for yourself.
Ayn Rand was one of the most intriguing, complex, and seminal American thinkers of the Twentieth Century. For seven decades — from her 1905 birth in czarist Russia’s St. Petersburg to her 1982 interment in New York’s Kensico cemetery — she was the vortex around which she drew family, friends, acquaintances, and lovers, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their detriment.
As the subtext of Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made reveals, close relationships with Rand were, as Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, the best of times and the worst of times.
Heller begins her biography with Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum’s 1905 birth in St. Petersburg, Russia and ends with Ayn Rand’s 1982 death in New York City. Structuring her book in chronological order, albeit interspersed with significant events, Heller enables the reader to see Rand’s development as person, woman, and writer.
The early “Russian” chapters are particularly fascinating as they zero in on the virtues and values young Alissa developed in an alien czarist and soviet world and adhered to tenaciously throughout her life.
Far from being raised in a country that respected individual rights, free market capitalism and an objective rule of law, St. Petersburg was a boiling cauldron of the opposite, exemplified by what Heller calls “the most anti-Semitic … nation on the European continent.”
Heller’s prodigious research — through primary sources, historical materials, and personal interviews — portrays a young girl at the mercy of a czarist regime that gave way to the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution.
And Heller succeeds admirably in integrating Alissa Rosenbaum’s personal experiences with some of the fictional events and characters Ayn Rand would create decades later in America. For example, Alissa’s mother was apparently a lightweight social climber with a cruel streak. Heller connects that characteristic with We the Living, Rand’s quasi-autobiographical first novel, where “…the heroine, Kira Argounova, views her mother as an unprincipled conformist.”