An Indian Connection
By Sarita Ravindranath
She has been revered – by a legion of followers that range from Alan Greenspan to Angelina Jolie, from students to CEOs to pop icons to anyone who wants to defy convention or authority – as passionately as she has been reviled by literary critics.
But there was very little the world knew about Ayn Rand, philosopher and author of the still-bestselling The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), till recently. When she died in 1982, even her closest associates weren’t aware of the Russia-born Ayn Rand’s real name: Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum.
It was only in 2009 that the first “critical” biography of this writer, whose books returned to the bestseller list after recession hit the world in 2007, was published.
Journalist Anne C Heller‘s Ayn Rand and the World She Made,( Nan A. Talese/Tranquebar), escaped the fate of Rand’s own novels, which were trashed by newspapers and literary magazines of the day. Critics loved the book (“Far more interesting than anything in Rand’s novels”, said the New York Times) and a paperback edition of the biography is out this week.
Heller, the former fiction editor of Esquire and Redbook, discovered Rand and her speech in defence of money (Atlas Shrugged) as an adult in her forties – unlike most of her peers who read Rand in their teens. “I became a strong admirer, albeit one with many questions and reservations,” she says.
Ayn Rand and the World She Made traces Rand’s early life, her escape from Communist Russia and her life as a Hollywood screenwriter before she found fame with The Fountainhead. The book exposes the terrible contradictions that built the Ayn Rand cult: The champion of individuality expected and demanded total conformity from her acolytes. Rand was a cheerleader for the free market economy, but never got around to investing her own money.
Heller writes of how Rand first found her hero – not in America – but between the pages of an illustrated story set in British-ruled West Bengal that she read when she was nine. Cyrus, the brave, arrogant British hero of The Mysterious Valley who slays “savage” Indian villains, was her “first love”. The template for her fictional heroes and the ones she looked for in real life.
Anne Heller is the first outside Rand’s inner circle to chronicle the writer’s explosive extra-marital affair with her former fan Nathaniel Branden, 25 years her junior. Their spouses consented to the affair and were the only ones who knew of it during Rand’s lifetime.
In an exclusive interview with sify.com, Heller speaks about the larger-than-life world that Ayn Rand created, her philosophy and the curious appeal of her novels to the young.