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Conquered City

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  225 ratings  ·  32 reviews
1919–1920: St. Petersburg, city of the czars, has fallen to the Revolution. Camped out in the splendid palaces of the former regime, the city’s new masters seek to cement their control, even as the counterrevolutionary White Army regroups. Conquered City, Victor Serge’s most unrelenting narrative, is structured like a detective story, one in which the new political regime ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published July 1st 1981 by Writers & Readers Publishing (first published 1932)
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3.88  · 
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 ·  225 ratings  ·  32 reviews


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Hadrian
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"All this beauty was perhaps the sign of our death. Not a single chimney was smoking. The city was thus dying. And, like shipwrecked men on a raft devouring each other, we were about to fight among ourselves, workers against workers, revolutionaries against revolutionaries."

Serge here writes on the besieged city of St. Petersburg, or Leningrad, or Petrograd. Although there is technically a main plot line, his approach to it is more episodic, a portrait of the city as much as it is of the charact
...more
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Conquered City by Victor Serge is the second novel that I’ve read set in the Civil War that followed the 1917 Bolshevik coup in Russia. The first was The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov which I admired for its clarity, its biting satire and its sheer brilliance. It’s set in and around Kiev in the Ukraine at a particularly troubled and uncertain time in history, just as Serge's book is set in and around Saint Petersburg - then called Petrograd – during the same troubled months.

Conquered City is
...more
Kevin
Conquered City is part three of the 'Victory in Defeat, Defeat in Victory' cycle that Serge wrote detailing in a semi-autobiographical way his experiences of being incarcerated just before the outbreak of WW1, taking part in the Barcelona uprising of 1917 and his eventual journey across a war-torn Europe and into Russia after the Revolution that had occurred there in 1917, being exchanged (as he was a political prisoner) for ex-Tsarist hostages.

St.Petersburg is the conquered city in question. A
...more
Jim
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, russia, politics
Victor Serge is virtually unknown in the West, and that is a shame. Born in Brussels, Serge was a Communist Revolutionary who saw action during the Revolution. Conquered City is about the years 1919-1920, when the Bolsheviks have largely prevailed but are being assailed from within by Mensheviks and Left SR's and from without by the White Russian armies financed by the Western powers.

Conquered City skips around from one set of revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries to another. Although some
...more
Linda
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Jake
Victor Serge's Conquered City is an extraordinary novel in every sense. It captures the period of one year in the Russian revolution, when the revolutionaries are in control of St. Petersburg (or, rather, Petrograd) and have begun a period of purges, reprisals, and terror. It is impressionistic, episodic, and truly a communist story, in its root meaning of communal. It is not an individual person's story, but rather a story, told through glimpses of dozens of different lives, of both a people an ...more
J.
"...workers are changing the world, just as they demolish, build, forge, throw bridges across rivers. We will throw a bridge from one universe to the other. Over there: the black and yellow peoples, the brown peoples, the enslaved peoples ..
Words no longer followed her thoughts in their ineffable flight. The shimmering crosses of the churches attracted her eyes. Old faith, we will break you too. We will take the crucified one down off the cross. We want people to forget him. No more symbols of
...more
Feliks
Jul 19, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: good-nonfiction
I'm overhauling my initially positive review, for the novel alters very gravely in quality, approximately 1/3 through its length.

This odd little work started out alright. It is a slim volume representing a behind-the-scenes view of the sprawling brigandry and savagery as Kerensky's provisional government battled the first people's Soviet, and the martial law which swept the city.

At first, Serge seems to possess a simple, light, and often poetic touch. He demonstrates an eye for detail, for colo
...more
Janet
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
This is a round robin of voices and lives in the Civil War period in Petrograd following the Revolution, recognizable political leaders, representative types, it hits the high (and low) points, the great suffering of the working class and the even greater suffering of the non-proletariat, the terrible shortages, the ironic full circle suffered by the Special Commission (CHeKa) is especially premonitory of the Stalinist purges. But as a novel per se, the book suffers the fate of many books writte ...more
Petter Nordal
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Serge was there. It's one thing to read historic accounts based on documentary evidence, but sometimes reading an account by a participant who cared, lost and survived is more immediate.
Ray Hartley
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Petrograd (cf. St Petersburg, Leningrad) finds itself at the center of the post Russian revolution civil war. Bandits, thugs and looters associate themselves with whichever side is in ascendancy as the germinating security state begins the grim task of deciding who should live or die in the name of progress. Its officials find themselves seeking out the traitors as part of the Special Commission, the precursor to Stalin's Cheka. For its chilling account of how ordinary well-meaning people turn i ...more
Lauren Strickland
Inspiring, beautifully written, a work with enviable experimental form. Composed in fragments and therefore easy - pleasurable - to dip in and out of; a prime example of modernist literature, therefore hard to read tiredly, or without your full attention. An interesting literary and historical curiosity (and I mean this as a sincere, not at all dismissive, compliment).
Don
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This the third of a sequence of novels that took in the themes of imprisonment, the lives of revolutionaries in Barcelona, in an internment camp in France, and on arrival in Red Petrograd, and finally the struggle to hold on to that city during the years of the civil war.

This last volume is a stark portrait of a city gripped in a deep winter, with hunger and disease threatening the population, and with White Russian armies and their foreign allies surrounding the city. A beleaguered Communist pa
...more
Fred Dameron
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Ever since I read The Case of Comrade Ulyenov I've enjoyed Victor Serge. This quick historical fiction (?) is a great read. One feels as if you are watching the Revolution eat it's along with Serge. A wonderful commentary on what actually happens when a country goes through a revolution. Told by a man who was there to watch. Great read.
Dustin Riccio
A collection of beautiful little tragedies that add up to a story of a country slowly tearing itself to pieces.
Jim
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Party is becoming contaminated, you say? It's inevitable. Remember the entrance of the anarchists into Ekaterinoslav? They aware carrying a big black banner with these words: 'Poison is More Deadly than Power!' That's pretty true. It's also a poison we need." p137

This astonishing, claustrophobic account of Leningrad (rather, Petrograd) under the tenuous rule of the Bolsheviks and the terror they employed, while under siege by the Whites, written by someone who was there (and who remained a
...more
Bruce Crown
This is a great episodic book, albeit difficult to understand unless you are a Russian Culture student or interested in Russian History (or a general historian). As it depicts the fall of the city of St. Petersburg in the revolution of 1917 at the turn of the war, little tidbits of history are prevalent throughout. Reading it now, we find some major ideological developments, this revolution caused the rise of fascism and Stalinism, culminating in the Cold War. At its apex, we find why Russian go ...more
Rick
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Conquered City is a novel of the Russian civil war between the Reds and Whites after the Russian Revolution. Serge, a participant in the civil war on the side of the Reds, wrote his novel at the start of the 1930s. He’d been arrested by Stalin’s secret police in the late 20s and had later been Stalin’s guest in the Gulag until influential French communists protested his arrest. Reluctantly released, Serge was a non-person but, helped by his prison experiences (in a variety of countries and on or ...more
Eva D.
Feb 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a chilling exploration of the problems inherent in utopian ideologies (specifically, the Bolshevik ones). The more of Victor Serge I read, the more I love him. The man has an absolutely incredible biography -- he was constantly on the run or in prison, and always reading and writing. Most of his writing is an attempt to work through the problem of bringing about social revolution...the motivations, the discipline necessary, the sacrifice behind it all. This particular title is from his r ...more
Daniel Polansky
holy shit, this was a book. Victor Serge was the child of Anarchist revolutionaries who fought with the Reds in the Russian Civil War before breaking with Stalin and dying penniless and basically forgotten in Mexico. This story of the attempt of the Red Army to fend off the White in St. Petersburg in 1919 is fabulously good. With blistering if difficult prose he describes the thought processes of a menagerie of different characters on both sides of the struggle, die-hard Soviet Partisans and Whi ...more
Eric
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, multi-voiced account of St. Petersburg in 1919, Conquered City uses an episodic approach borne out of Mr. Serge's circumstances at the time the novel was written to paint a picture of a city collapsing under its own weight. Characters are deftly drawn, and Mr. Serge's voice is, as ever, taut and somewhat oblique, throwing you into the fire an forcing you to draw out the significance of each episode. This is an entertaining but inconsistent read, and falters a little toward the end, ...more
Steve Mayer
I've wanted to read Victor Serge for a long time--he was an intellectual hero of one of my intellectual heroes, Dwight MacDonald. But this may not be the place to begin. It's a bleak, unsparing look at Leningrad in the midst of the Russian Civil War, circa 1919-20. Terror and abject poverty abound, and the workers who made the revolution understandably wonder--as did the soldiers in Cromwell's army (see The Putney Debates or Light Shining in Buckinghamshire)--what they got out of it. It's a wond ...more
Sunjay
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A rather bland depiction of St. Petersburg during the Civil War. Yeah, bad stuff happens to good people, but Serge is still fixated on the general idea of socialism as a good thing, and therefore he equivocates. Rather than railing against the system (like Koestler or Solzhenitsyn), he rails against greedy bureaucrats, lazy workers, and spineless party members unable to stand up for what they believe in. In the end perhaps Serge's nuanced approach is more correct, but it doesn't make for good re ...more
Sarah
May 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb-classics
Terrific 1st person boots on the ground story of the Russian revolution. Yes it can happen here. We are all just an insane bread line ( where there is no actual bread) away from complete meaninglessness. A world where you pay for flour with diamonds and EVERYONE in town has VD after the army passes through. Oh and Spoiler alert for anyone not up on their history: Everybody dies.
Patrick
A great portrait of St. Petersburg after the October Revolution, but before the Bolsheviks have consolidated full power. As noted in the introduction yes, there is a plot, but this really the story of a city and it's climate in the throes of revolution (and violent uncertainty).
Pippa
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I find it hard to share Serge's optimism for our future, but these are powerful books.
l.
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stunning. Rereading.
Dara
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating depiction of life in St. Petersburg under attack from within and without. Portrayal of Bolshevik activists is particularly interesting and multi-faceted.
John Hartwell
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read it - it's massive!
Cheryl
Jun 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't get enough of Russia these days, especially the story of Leningrad/St Petersburg - the Conquered city of the title.
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NYRB Classics: Conquered City, by Victor Serge 2 6 Oct 24, 2013 04:48PM  

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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
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“We have conquered everything, and everything has slipped out of our grasp.” 5 likes
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