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Unforgiving Years

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4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  201 ratings  ·  28 reviews
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 m
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Paperback, 341 pages
Published February 19th 2008 by NYRB Classics (first published 1971)
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New York Review Books - Classics
93rd out of 374 books — 346 voters
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Best Russian Literature
117th out of 383 books — 1,424 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,141)
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Szplug
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
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William
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
AC
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.
Kevin
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
unperspicacious
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...
John
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
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Stefanie
an hallucinatory, nightmarish, apocalytic vision lyrically submerged with a surrealistic, horrifying reality. gripping!!
Lobstergirl
Jan 02, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
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.
Ben
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
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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
Richard
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
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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
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thegift
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
Tim
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
Petra
Aug 20, 2014 Petra marked it as to-read
Shelves: library
Interlibrary loan (NW)
Erin
Jun 04, 2013 Erin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: russia
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.
Catherine
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.
Phil
Jun 14, 2014 Phil is currently reading it
Much heavy exposition in the beginning--a somewhat worrying sign.
Meghan
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.
Chris
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.
Jodi
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.
Doug
Jul 07, 2012 Doug rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.


Neil
Serge was a counter-revolutionary a-hole. Good writer though, the paranoia for his kind was evidently intense.
Jonfaith
This one appeared messy to me. Not taut and talonned like Comrade Tulayev. I still enjoyed such.
Mikee
Victor Serge is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
Trspears42
An interesting one.
The Incredible Hogg
The Incredible Hogg marked it as to-read
Dec 23, 2014
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NYRB Classics: Unforgiving Years, by Victor Serge 2 6 Oct 30, 2013 09:55PM  
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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...
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