This Dalkey Archive reprint is a brutal evisceration of bourgeois materialism, brilliantly written. The novel was originally published in 1959. It's eThis Dalkey Archive reprint is a brutal evisceration of bourgeois materialism, brilliantly written. The novel was originally published in 1959. It's essential reading, especially for anyone interested in the great works of twentieth-century France.
Parisians Alain and Gisele are sick of living in their tiny, cramped flat. They can't have anyone in. It's just too tiresome! Alain, a writer, can't work when Gisele is at home. So without the hindrance of anything resembling conscience, they attempt by means of suasion to remove Alain's aunt, Berthe, from her own fabulous apartment. Why does a dotty old woman need a fantastic apartment like that anyway? She can't possibly appreciate it as much as they would.
It's all about materialism, overweening materialism that triggers hubris. The characters' lives are comprised entirely of things with no self questioning or introspection. Their contempt for each other in their relentless quest for objects is appalling. The novel strikes one almost as a exposé, revealing an all too contemptible world.
I was stunned by the novel's brilliance. Perhaps because of the publication date it unspooled in my mind like a François Truffaut film--in black-and-white, complete with frame-jutter and emulsion scratches. Sarraute's contempt for her characters is profound, but this is subtext. I think it's a wonderful book for Sarraute's penetrating use of third-person free-indirect speech and the psychological depths this device allows her to plumb....more
Here's a real corker for you. The setting is late 1930s Moscow. Joseph Stalin and his henchmen are in the process of committing one of the twentieth cHere's a real corker for you. The setting is late 1930s Moscow. Joseph Stalin and his henchmen are in the process of committing one of the twentieth century's greatest crimes in the rounding up, framing, trial and execution of their fellow Bolsheviks. This period has become known as The Great Terror. Wikipedia describes it as a period ". . . of campaigns of political repression and persecution . . . that involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of peasants ("dekulakization"), Red Army leadership, and the persecution of unaffiliated persons. It was characterized by widespread police surveillance, suspicion of "saboteurs", imprisonment, and executions." The toll is estimated to range from 20 to 50 million people. Just think of that for a moment: the difference, 30 million deaths, as a statistical uncertainty.
Victor Serge was the son of Russian political exiles who fled the Czar's tyranny. He did not set foot in Russia in support the Bolshevik Revolution until 1919 at age 28. Unlike many of his fellow revolutionaries, Serge had grown up in the democratic West where speech went for the most part unpunished, though even there he was jailed for his political activities. In 1928 he was arrested for criticizing Stalin's rule. André Gide was part of the international literary front that demanded his release. Fortunately Serge had actually been born in Brussels, which made him a foreign national. Yet as a Communist Party functionary for some nine years he came to know the workings of the Soviet government and its players well. The Case of Comrade Tulayev is his novelistic expose about how The Great Terror affected the lives of Soviet citizens of all kinds. The ease with which Stalin's "rivals" were framed and executed is almost beyond belief. Fortunately we have Robert Conquest's superb The Great Terror to corroborate Serge's vision in excruciating detail.
The story starts with a young Moscow resident who finds himself in possession of a Colt pistol. When he happens across Colonel Tulayev, who is involved with the current purge, his unhesitating and automatic impulse is to shoot the man dead. Police whistles sound. He flees, is never caught. Stalin and his goons then take advantage of the "public outrage" created by the murder to do away in utterly random fashion with a number of old Bolsheviks. The ease with which they choose others for destruction—and then are subsequently destroyed themselves—takes the breath away. Included in the frame up is Artyem Makeyev who perhaps suffers the least in anticipation of his arrest. He is a peasant lad for whom the Revolution was great fun. Afterward he rises to a position of regional power through relentless ambition and command of the socialist clichés. Kiril Kirillovitch Rublev, by contrast, is a thinker and scholar, a gentle, honest man whom the reader comes to admire. It is through Rublev and others that we begin to understand the terrible campaign of fear and terror they endured while awaiting inevitable arrest. The dread and anticipation of the knock on the door in the middle of the night is something Serge conveys almost too well. He has the gift of making all of the main characters—even the real rats like Intelligence Chief Erchov; Central Committee member Popov; and frameup artist Zvyeryeva—sympathetic.
What I found startling was Serge's consistently wonderful writing, originally in French (translated by Willard Trask, who is perhaps best known for the Herculean task of translating all 12 volumes of Casanova's diaries). And to think he wrote the book while on the run between Paris, Agen, Marseille, the Dominican Republic and Mexico during the years 1940-42. The book credited with first bringing the crimes of Stalin's reign to public notice is Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, published in 1941. Victor Serge, it is important to note, was writing his indictment before that, but he languished in exile, died in 1947 and an English translation of the book did not appear until 1950. Susan Sontag writes the informative preface in which she discusses both Serge's fascinating biography, as well as why Koestler and not Serge got all the credit for bringing the show trials to light. This is a fascinating novel that deserves far greater recognition than it has so far received. Many thanks to New York Review Books for republishing this masterpiece....more
A slog. With a mere 25 pages to go, I lost patience and couldn't finish it. There's a redundancy of detail that, I know, Robbe-Grillet thinks is his cA slog. With a mere 25 pages to go, I lost patience and couldn't finish it. There's a redundancy of detail that, I know, Robbe-Grillet thinks is his clever structural trick, but here, in translation, unlike in the exquisite Jealousy, is simply tedious. Read Jealousy instead....more
This is superb. A historical novel about the astonishing failure of the French at Sedan on Prussia's 1870 invasion. I've read it two or three times, aThis is superb. A historical novel about the astonishing failure of the French at Sedan on Prussia's 1870 invasion. I've read it two or three times, and will read it again. What greater praise can there be than that? ...more
Second reading. This is an essential book. If there's a canon, The Plague belongs in it. A few things interested me this time through. Mostly the narrSecond reading. This is an essential book. If there's a canon, The Plague belongs in it. A few things interested me this time through. Mostly the narrator's penchant, most effective, for writing about the town's collective mood. This device struck me as an improvement on the Soviet worker novels of the day (1947). The prose is not pumped up to triumphalist proportions. (There must be a scholar somewhere who's addresses this. I'll have to search LC.) Neither is there an idealized superman worker, but portraits of individuals with both flaws and great strengths. One wonders to what extent the novel had didactic intent. By that observation I don't mean to trivialize the book's elegant high style, its sheer brilliance, its profound insights into life, death and duty. This is an astonishing book and I highly recommended it.
PS A new translation of Exile and the Kingdom appeared in 2007. Can a new translation of The Plague be far off? Let's hope not. This one was published in 1948!...more