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Unforgiving Years

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  243 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Unforgiving Yearsis 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 mo
Kindle Edition, 371 pages
Published (first published 1971)
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When, at last, you open your eyes after feeling the day's warmth full upon your face, what if the vision that stands before you reveals not a golden, lambent orb levering itself free from earthly bonds but millions upon millions of souls aflame, burning spirits in solar flare, emancipated from the cadavers to light the gaping maw of hell? Would you weep for the murdered revolution? Would you recognize its tomb for the abyss?

The above bit of symbolic lugubriousness does a fair job of summing up t
An elegant literary thriller. It’s 1937 and D is an operative in the Soviet security services who, along with Nadine, his lover and fellow agent, is stationed in Paris. D, who poses as an antiques dealer, is appalled by the slaughter of his friends during Stalin’s show trials (see Robert Conquest's The Great Terror). He sends his letter of resignation prematurely to his superior, and then he and Nadine must run. In a drab hotel on Paris’s outskirts they keep Brownings on the bedside tables cover ...more
This is a beautiful, beautiful book. At first..., I was not sure. I had to read half of it before I was convinced... and after reading Tulayev..., that Serge is probably a genius.

At any rate..., others are much better trained to read literature than I am... so take that observation for what little it's worth.
This has been described as Victor Serges best novel. Whilst being obviously his most ambitious work, containing some deep philosophising and disturbing portrayals of both what the effect the Second World War had upon civilian populations and also what it meant to live in fear of persecution from Stalinist agents, I found his earlier book 'The Case of Comrade Tulyaev better for lots more reasons. Possibly it was because I didn't like the flow of the book, it became quite confusing to link all the ...more
Appallingly exquisite. Worth reading again and again, letting the words wash over the senses... Greeman's translation seems to have a life of its own. The book deals masterfully with the European aspects of the War, interrogating Western consciousness. Serge's perspective is nevertheless encrusted with orientalism. His (not inconsiderable) sense of humanity had some obvious limits...
Jan 02, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: balaclava knitters
I suspect that, in addition to this being a ghastlily muddled narrative, which is Victor Serge's fault (but ascribed to modernist sensibilities by Serge fans), the translation by Richard Greeman must be lacking. Greeman's introduction was unimpressive, and whoever wrote the little NYRB biography of Serge at the beginning (was it Greeman too?) desperately needs to be schooled on paragraph writing. When every sentence in a paragraph has exactly the same structure, it feels like being hit on the he ...more
After p. 100.

My summary judgement of the first section of this novel is that one should not even begin to think that one has even the most tenuous grasp of Victor Serge as he might have been by reading his "Memoirs" and none of his novels, certainly without having read the first 100 pages of "Unforgiving Years".

At my advanced age I should have called to mind a rule of mine before I commented on "Memoirs" - advance no thought before its time. I remembered after the fact that I felt I had constru
This book is intense and visceral at every moment. It is a historical novel written by a man who was incredibly close to the events that he is describing and that first hand knowledge seeps through in ways that are consistently striking and intense. An unforgettable read which has left a strong impression on me and I assume on most who have read it.

Generally speaking I don't like historical novels, but this is different than most I have read. Rarely does it try to give a larger context for the
an hallucinatory, nightmarish, apocalytic vision lyrically submerged with a surrealistic, horrifying reality. gripping!!
Thomas Hübner

Unforgiving Years - a very suitable title for a novel that is reflecting the lives of the protagonists of Victor Serge's posthumously published book about a group of life-long revolutionaries that have broken with the Communist Party after the show trials of the years 1936/37 in Moscow and the great purges in the Soviet Union, followed by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

D - like all Comintern agents he is using several nam
Daniel Polansky
So after last week's debacle, after I laid that goose egg, after the rare route in the lifelong battle against ignorance, I had hoped to return this week at double-speed. Alas. I only read the one book, and even then only barely. Part of this is because I'm under the gun with Those Below, and I'm moving out of my apartment, and I'm going traveling at the end of the month, and also for other reasons that don't need to be entered in on. But mostly because Unforgiving Years is not a page turner, no ...more
Quinn Slobodian
Seeing as the protagonists are true-believer Communists in the 30s and 40s, this book is occasionally mind-numbing, which is only appropriate. It's occasionally deeply moving, which is only appropriate. What I didn't expect but was so happy to find was the black humor all through it, the irony as deep as the earnestness. And when it ends, you can't decide it if it's mercy or crime.
Snippets of pleasant narrative too thinly veiling a soapbox and muddling much else.
UNFORGIVING YEARS. (1971). Victor Serge. **.
I had problems getting through this novel. The writing style was choppy and confusing. The story line was constantly interrupted by the author’s stepping up on his soapbox and delivering set speeches dealing with governments and their running. I am probably in the minority here, but I just could not see the justification for the many high reviews it got on Goodreads. I’ll do the only thing I can: I’ll not try to read any more of Serge’s books.
Unforgivingly bleak.

...[A:]ging men who still remember having followed dreams, wanting to become artists, scientists, discoverers, revolutionaries, reformers, sages! But one day they said to themselves: Let's make some money first, otherwise we're powerless. And it was all the easier because it was diving into another powerlessness. They became wealthy; disillusioned with themselves and hence with everything, they frittered their lives away in gilding their cages, while a cynical bitterness grew
Todd Dills
This book's something of a politically-minded link between the moderns and postmoderns -- can be seen as such, anyhow. It's told in four stylistically daring parts -- the first in Paris with secret comintern agent D just before WWII breaks out and he goes into hiding, the 2nd following D's former colleague and lover Daria through Kazakstan and back to Russia as she works as an agent of the party in wartime, the third in destroyed Germany, and the fourth back with D and Daria reunited in Mexico, ...more
Interesting novel about two idealistic communist agents/revolutionaries, D and Daria, before, during, and after WWII. The book is split into four parts - following the characters through vastly different settings as they are personally and ideologically tested by the war. The book reads like a series of linked novellas as the two main characters meet only briefly in the first part and the last. The first part was enjoyable - an ultra-paranoid, secret agent noir, focusing on D, on the run, trying ...more
Serjeant Wildgoose
This is a stunning book which is beautifully crafted and translated. The introduction (And the extracted blurb on the rear cover) do not necessarily set the reader up to the best enjoy the undoubted challenge of reading it. Yes, it is a difficult read in parts; and yes it is symphonic in scale and structure.

But this is not a book about D or Daria, so why they are set up in the introduction as the principals is beyond me and perhaps explains why some reviewers did not become immediately enrapture
Miles Atkinson
The book had a strange structure with no real protagonist. I found myself drifting in and out of the story mainly because of the difficulty in determining who the characters in each section were. Serge's psychological analyses and observations are all strongly colored by Marxist thought. This gives the book a bit of an antiquated feel.
Some sections of the book were gripping. I especially liked the chapters about the Siege of Leningrad and Mexican exile. Still, the book left something to be desir
the gift
Uneven. There are several novels here, several plots, single recurring character, and a sense of honest idealism betrayed by contingencies of the world. Revolution, war, espionage, all international, from the perspectives of each group, he could have made several works, but this works sometimes as each story interweaves with other. First, easiest to follow, is paranoid life of the secret agent, then the revolution in Russia, the war in Berlin, the ending in Mexico. Some political diversions, but ...more
This novel, set among disillusioned Soviet agents before, during and after World War II, reminded me in many ways of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago. It has Zhivago's strengths: depth of character study, memorable set pieces, delicate painting-in of the political background. It also has that novel's weaknesses: choppy, episodic, too many long sections in which nothing much happens.[return][return]Yet there are some truly memorable scenes here which make it worth persisting through the rough pat ...more
I liked "Comrade Tulayev" much better. I found this book a bit muddled (perhaps the translation?) and did not like the 4th section at all.
Aug 20, 2014 Petra marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
Interlibrary loan (NW)
Unforgiving Years is an interesting fictional story based on Victor Serge's real life. I loved the introduction by Richard Greeman, definitely read it, it helped me to understand the book so much better. The prose is wonderful and the communist undertones are very strong. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading more of Victor Serge and Richard Greeman.
I was kind of intimidated by this book but the writing is so hilariously bad that when I started reading it it was hard to take seriously. I'm putting it down for now. Here's a lesson: the Secretary of the International Victor Serge Foundation should not be allowed to introduce books by Victor Serge.
something tells me this is one of those books that's best digested through multiple reads -- full of dense observations, you catch yourself re-reading entire sections to really dig into the meat of what's being communicated.
Brilliant story of WWII and aftermath. Follows the life and loves of Daria in her service to Stalin (uh-oh...). Powerfully evokes the suffocating atmosphere of 20th-century totalitarianism.
I would give 3.5 stars if I could. I liked it but probably liked the last half of the book better than the first half. It took me a while to finish.
Jul 07, 2012 Doug rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of George Orwell, B. Traven and Alan Furst
I have just finished the first part "The Secret Agent". This is very much like the world Alan Furst describes in his novels.

Serge was a counter-revolutionary a-hole. Good writer though, the paranoia for his kind was evidently intense.
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NYRB Classics: Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge 2 9 Oct 30, 2013 09:55PM  
  • Soul
  • The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays
  • The Letter Killers Club
  • The Queue
  • White Walls: Collected Stories
  • Monsieur Monde Vanishes
  • The Petty Demon
  • Diary of a Man in Despair
  • Envy
  • Transit
  • My Fantoms
  • Wish Her Safe at Home
  • Generations of Winter
  • Fatale
  • An Ermine in Czernopol
  • The Jokers
  • The Golovlyov Family
  • The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irene Nemirovsky by Her Daughter
Victor Lvovich Kibalchich (В.Л. Кибальчич) was born in exile in 1890 and died in exile in 1947. He is better known as Victor Serge, a Russian revolutionary and Francophone writer. Originally an anarchist, he joined the Bolsheviks five months after arriving in Petrograd in January 1919, and later worked for the newly founded Comintern as a journalist, editor and translator. He was openly critical o ...more
More about Victor Serge...
The Case of Comrade Tulayev Memoirs of a Revolutionary Conquered City What Every Radical Should Know About State Repression: A Guide for Activists Year One of the Russian Revolution

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