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Unforgiving Yearsby Victor Serge
Synopses & Reviews
A New York Review Books Original
Unforgiving Years is a thrilling and terrifying journey into the disastrous, blazing core of the twentieth century. Victor Serge’s final novel, here translated into English for the first time, is at once the most ambitious, bleakest, and most lyrical of this neglected major writer’s works.
The book is arranged into four sections, like the panels of an immense mural or the movements of a symphony. In the first, D, a lifelong revolutionary who has broken with the Communist Party and expects retribution at any moment, flees through the streets of prewar Paris, haunted by the ghosts of his past and his fears for the future. Part two finds D’s friend and fellow revolutionary Daria caught up in the defense of a besieged Leningrad, the horrors and heroism of which Serge brings to terrifying life. The third part is set in Germany. On a dangerous assignment behind the lines, Daria finds herself in a city destroyed by both Allied bombing and Nazism, where the populace now confronts the prospect of total defeat. The novel closes in Mexico, in a remote and prodigiously beautiful part of the New World where D and Daria are reunited, hoping that they may at last have escaped the grim reckonings of their modern era.
A visionary novel, a political novel, a novel of adventure, passion, and ideas, of despair and, against all odds, of hope, Unforgiving Years is a rediscovered masterpiece by the author of The Case of Comrade Tulayev.
"Born in Brussels of Russian revolutionary exiles, Serge (1890 — 1947) has long had a reputation as polemicist and journalist, but this powerful novel of the descent into WWII makes a strong case for his political fiction. In the pressured atmosphere just preceding the outbreak of war, a secret agent, D., breaks with the 'Organization' — Stalin's spy network — and escapes from Paris with his lover, Nadine. With extreme paranoia that he cloaks in exquisite manners, D. tells only one person where they are going: an old comrade named Daria. In the next, flash-forward section, Daria, having been arrested, is released from exile in a Soviet backwater and thrust into the siege of Leningrad. The third section opens in 1945 Berlin, where Daria witnesses a host of Germans, injured and half crazy, try to survive aerial bombardment — a moment that, as W.G. Sebald noted, has been deeply underserved by literature. In the final section, Daria escapes Europe and follows D. and Nadine to Mexico, escaping (she thinks) the long reach of Stalin's agents. Serge remains sophisticated even during the book's more noirish moments, and action sequences form an inseparable part of his hypnotic, prophetic vision." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A New York Review Books Original
Never before translated into English, The Unforgiving Years is the most ambitious, the bleakest, and the most lyrical of the novels of Victor Serge, best-known for his gripping evocation of Stalinist Terror in The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Combining the taut plot of an action film with the exuberance of an adventure story, The Unforgiving Years takes readers from the growing apprehension of pre-World War II Paris, to Leningrad under Nazi siege, to a Berlin that is rapidly collapsing as the Allies move in from east and west, and finally, with the war over, to the mountains of Mexico, a New World but one where Europe's lethal ideologies are still at work. This sweeping story grounds history and politics in the intimacies of ordinary life, featuring a cast of artists, intellectual, agitators, spies, and hired assassins, for whom love and treachery are never far apart. Here Serge, a master of suspense and atmosphere, pushes realism to the brink of hallucination, in a depiction of worlds and souls in collision that reads like an unforgettable collaboration between Louis-Ferdinand Celine and John le Carre.
About the Author
Victor Serge (1890—1947) was born in Brussels, the son of Russian political exiles. Enduring five years of prison in Paris for his anarchist beliefs, in 1919 he went to Russia to support the Bolshevik Revolution. Serge served as the editor of the journal Communist International, but was expelled from the Communist Party and imprisoned for his condemnation of Stalin's growing power. Released but arrested again, his deportation to Central Asia spurred international protests from eminent figures such as Andre Gide, who succeeded in securing Serge's freedom and exile in France. He wrote fiction and aided Trotsky until the German occupation of France, after which he fled to Mexico.
Richard Greeman is based in Montpellier, France, where he is Secretary of the International Victor Serge Foundation. He is a member of Praxis Center (Moscow). He has been a professor at Columbia, Wesleyan and the University of Hartford, and an activist since the 1950s.
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