Ayn Rand arrived in America on February 18, 1926. She stayed with relatives in Chicago for six months, writing the following letter—the earliest discovered—just before she left for Hollywood. It is written to the young man who, at that time, represented her idea of a romantic hero and who would later become the model for Leo Kovalensky, a main character in We the Living. This letter, much edited and written in Russian by AR, was presumably recopied and then sent to him in Leningrad.
August 28, 1926
Hello [written in English] Lyolya,
There was a time when I loved that American expression of yours [referring to “hello”] and now I am using it myself, because they don’t have any other expression here. Thank you for your letter. Though a little late, I am fulfilling my promise to you. You said you wanted to have an American to correspond with. I am writing to you as a real “American resident.”
I am so Americanized that I can walk in the streets without raising my head to look at the skyscrapers; I sit in a restaurant on very high chairs like in futuristic movie sets and use a straw to sip “fruit cocktails,” brought to me by a real Negro “servant”; I have learned to cross the street without getting hit by a car, while traffic cops yell “come
on, girl” to me.
[Paragraph crossed out:] Not taking anything too seriously is the chief rule Americans adhere to. Everybody makes fun of everybody else, not maliciously, but very wittily. I think I kind of got used to this. I learned not to take anything seriously, and that is the essence of America. The language here is not English at all, and is all “jokes” and “wisecracks” as they are called here.
As you can see, not only have I reached Riga [many family members expected her to abort her trip and return to Russia], I reached further still. The only thing that remains for me is to rise, which I am doing with my characteristic straight-line decisiveness. I hope you will be impressed once more when you hear that I didn’t back down from a much harder path. I heard you were told that I returned. I am getting used to America. I had gotten used to all kinds of adventures even before I got to Riga.
Even though I speak English now and even think in English, I would be very happy to have
“a Russian to correspond with,” if you want to write to the faraway city of Chicago.
Regarding your coming to Chicago, I will meet you at the train station, even if you arrive in 1947; even if I am by then the greatest star in Hollywood; I just hope you have nothing against photographers and reporters following me and all my friends around, as is customary with stars—at least I hope that will be the case. But since it will be a long time until that happens, I will be very happy to have “a Russian to correspond with.” I will be very happy to receive news from you.
That seems to be the only letter that AR wrote to Bekkerman, and it was in response to the only letter from him, though in July 1927, he added a line to a letter from her cousin in Leningrad. AR did get occasional news about him from her relatives. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, previously secret documents became available, and Ayn Rand Institute researchers learned that Bekkerman was arrested during the height of Stalinist terror, charged with “counterrevolutionary activities” and executed on May 5, 1937. AR never learned of his fate. For more on Bekkerman and others who inspired characters in We the Living, see “Parallel Lives” by Scott McConnell in Essays on Ayn Rand’s “We the Living,” ed. Robert Mayhew (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004).