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The Case of Comrade Tulayev

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  952 ratings  ·  108 reviews
One cold Moscow night, Comrade Tulayev, a high government official, is shot dead on the street, and the search for his killer begins. In this panoramic vision of the Soviet Great Terror, the investigation leads all over the world, netting a whole series of suspects whose only connection is their innocence—at least of the crime of which they stand accused. But The Case of C ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 30th 2004 by New York Review of Books (first published 1947)
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4.08  · 
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 ·  952 ratings  ·  108 reviews

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Steven Godin
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Born in Brussels to politically exiled Russian parents, Victor Kibalchich (Serge) followed in their footsteps in more ways than one, anarchist, prisoner, Trotsky aid, and exile, his condemnation of Stalin's totalitarian Soviet State would lead to his expulsion from the Communist party, and thus begin his writing of historical fiction. I get the impression that whist being held over long periods in solitary confinement he spent the time writing, mentally in his head that is. And although his fict ...more
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Chantal Delsol made a comment in one of her recent books to the effect that Communism never received the disapprobation that it merited due to the extant perception that its crimes were perpetrated for—and its foundational theories developed from—good intentions, a generosity never extended to its Fascist coevals. When you factor in the powerful rational strains within its evolving form—the philosophical rigor, scientific drapery, dialectic propulsion and inexorable historical necessity—you have ...more
Nov 25, 2011 marked it as spurned
Shelves: nyrb
I'm abandoning this one by the roadside like an old shoe or a sack of dead lithium batteries. It probably wasn't fair to Comrade Serge to embark upon his novel immediately after a Chekhov compilation. (It's not likely he would blossom in the shade of the master.) But I had hope. A fictional indictment of (the realities of) Stalinism? What's not to love, right? The Case of Comrade Tulayev may call itself a novel, but it's essentially a collection of related short stories. A Stalinist-era politica ...more
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 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 ...more
One of the best novels coming from Serge. Its pretty epic in its scope and enmeshes the lives of a lot of individuals persecuted by Stalinism and the Great Terror of the 1930's. For me, Serge has this kind of 'materialist mysticism', which makes the book a very deep novel. Great read.
David M
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fictional or not, this is probably the best account of the terror I've ever read. Serge's rendering of Stalin ('the Chief') is nothing less than astonishing. For all the monumental sweep of his subject matter, his style is often that of a miniaturist. We intimately experience the tortured idealism of the old Bolsheviks; whose loyalty to the revolution, despite everything, led them to contemplate falsely confessing to treason as the most honorable course of action. Against the infamous condescens ...more
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If there ever was a book to reinforce my father's grim warnings about "damn pinkos", here it is. Seeing as I've never lived in Stalin-era Soviet Union, I hesitate to mention how realistic this story is, but Jesus...Reads more like a short story collection, with each chapter serving as a mini-conflict for a specific character, all loosely connected around the random killing of the title comrade. If you need immediate gratification, just read chapter 4 ("To Build is to Perish") -- so scary to see ...more
A.J. Howard
If you've read both works, you can't talk about The Case of Comrade Tulayev without Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Both books, written by disaffected former Communists, and published within two years of each other, deal with the process of the revolution eating its children. Both books attempt to come to grips with the motivations of old guards revolutionaries who seemingly openly acquiesced with their own murder. Of course Darkness at Noon is much more widely known and widely read. There are pret ...more
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: hf, soviet-union, audible
This is supposed to be a classic about life under Stalin. I very much enjoyed those sections of the novel that describes places and scenes. The author's words draw a picture that you clearly see, be it the feel of the air on a frosty night or a street in Moscow. Likewise, I found the Communists’ maneuvering and killing during the Spanish Civil War interesting.

What I didn't like were the character portrayals. For me it felt that each character, and there are quite a number, are put into the story
Ben Winch
After the unmitigated rave by Susan Sontag that opens this book I expected to like it more than I did. I won't say 'much more than', because for most part I enjoyed it, but barely a few days after finishing I seemed to have retained little of it, and for a book that purports to examine such weighty subjects this is troubling. The problem wasn't that it was difficult; for the first half at least the pages flew by, helped along by a sense of great things afoot just beyond the surface. If this tran ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This is a fantastic book - hard to put down

It is set in the 1930s during Stalin's purges. It is a very atmospheric book, building up tension as lives are ingested, ground up and spat out of the mincer that was Stalin's Russia.

Similar in some ways to Koestlers Darkness at Noon, but less well known. I am glad I stumbled upon it.

Daniel Polansky
Would anyone seriously dispute that the Russians have a genius for the novel which exceeds every other race on the planet, particularly when one considers the general weakness of the the Russian educational system and economy, historically and up to the present? Of course, Serge wasn't exactly Russian, indeed he wasn't exactly anything, a perpetual iconoclast, as all decent writers ought to strive to be. The story of how the murder of a high-ranking Soviet official ends in one of Stalin's many p ...more
Bar Shirtcliff
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
An intricate, moving, reflective story of a murder and its cascade of indirect victims. Wonderful ending. I will likely read this again. I started out not really knowing how like Nabokov Serge is, in that every part of the story is meaningful and intertwined with every other. He's not as obvious about it as Nabokov is, so, I think I missed some important details. Anyway, I loved this book and I highly recommend it to people who like literature or who are interested in the history of Soviet Russi ...more
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I confess. I have a macabre penchant for gulag fiction, and this is my favourite of the lot. While Koestler & Solzhenitsyn graphically portray interrogation and exile respectively, Serge takes a panoramic approach showing how a Stalinist purge rippled out from a random incident to ensnare old heroes and young zealots alike. And he ought to know - having spent years in a Russian prison in the 1930s. This is a masterfully constructed tale written in an immensely readable style, but it is t ...more
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will leave it to those with literary tastes and insight to comment on this as a work of fiction. It was a fascinating book, however -- and a work of real merit. I have one complaint, but won't mention it, since it has something of a spoiler effect. On now to the Unforgiving Years...
Mar 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This Russian novel, written in 1940-2, while Serge was in exile, but not published in English until decades later, doesn't remind me of other big Russian novels - although set in 1936 in the reign of Stalin. It made me think of Philip K. Dick. Except for this novel, was based on not imagination - what if Hitler had won? - but based on the very real faked news of Russia, and it consequences. "Enemies of the people" was a common charge, which wouldn't have been so striking before the Donald and St ...more
Apr 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mother-rus
There are aspects of this which I confuse with Yury Dombrovsky; both Faculty of Useless Knowedge and Serge's Case of Comrade Tulayev affected me deeply. The gradual ratcheting in this one was amazing.
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the incredible generation of people who made a revolution and were then murdered by Stalin.

In prison, waiting to be shot, one of these revolutionaries writes: "We grew up amid struggle, escaping two profound captivities, that of old 'Holy Russia,' and that of the bourgeois West, at the same time we borrowed from these two worlds their most living elements: the spirit of inquiry, the transforming audacity ... a peasant people's direct feeling for truth an action, and its spiri
Yogy TheBear
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
The thing that bothers me most is the tragedy of Serge...This book is his thoughts, a Bolshevik, on the purges, deportations and the person of Stalin. He clearly sees the bolshevik experiment as a failed one, he perfectly understands the consequences of their failure and he admits they share blame for the fail and all that happened. Yet he dose still believe in the ideal. He fails to see that the cause of the failure lies in the ideal, that the ideea of communism is a wrong one. He dose not see ...more
Marc Gerstein
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
This (mainly the last clause), from the review in The Guardian, sums up why I’m not giving this five stars: “Serge may have been a man of extremely uncommon principle, and a fully fledged man of action, but he was also a sensitive and well-read literary man, alive not only to Russian literary heritage but to contemporary international stylistic developments”.

Contemporary international stylistic developments! &(*!@$!>#%

It was the semi stream of consciousness (not on the part of a character
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Painful and grim in the the best Russian fashion. A novel that seems to hyperventilate at points. Recommended.
Apr 16, 2011 rated it liked it
In many ways The Case of Comrade Tulayev eluded and confused me. Oftentimes an onslaught of bureaucratic detail (e.g. who served as the subcommissar of the Textile Trust of the such-and-such Committee of the Political Bureau) obscures or downright buries the existential crises undergone by each protagonist. Its attention to the aforementioned type of minutiae exhausts the reader, but is also equips with a grim, deeply ironic realism. Tulayev asserts individualism against a cosmic void proudly an ...more
Moon Rose
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Moon Rose by: Kindle Store Russian Lit Section, New York Review Books Classics
In literature, the power of persuasion is a significant ingredient that contributes a lot to the compelling nature of a work of fiction. In it lies the convincing power of the writer to create a sense of reality for the readers with each event unfolding with authentic realism especially true for historical novels, as it becomes an eye opener, a sort of wormhole to the past, an entry point that can kindle one′s awareness to a somewhat implausible historical fact, i.e., from the point of view of a ...more
Stephen Coates
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
After Comrade Tulayev, a high-ranking government official is murdered after being dropped off at his house by his driver, a whole mechanism swings into action, ostensibly to find the killer but to actually scapegoat a few prominent persons who will "confess" to being behind the murder, even though each is no where near where it occurred. Presciently, Serge describes how one of the suspects is summoned back to Moscow from holiday but when the train stops at a small station, he's then summoned to ...more
May 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This took me by surprise. I suppose you have to call the humour dark, but the book has a spirit of optimism, of belief in the principles and ambitions of the October Revolution, which is - in spite of a century of propaganda - still bright and inspiring and thoroughly intelligent. A terrific portrait of the most terrible régime that somehow remembers the passions and beliefs that were betrayed by the Stalinist takeover.
Oct 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
The power of religion and ideology for good and evil is unlimited and there are men who can manipulate that power for non-religious, non-ideological ends.

For anyone interested in the ideological and historical context of this novel I would recommend Isaac Deutscher's trilogy The Prophet Armed, The Prophet Unarmed and The Prophet Exiled and Franco Venturi's Roots of Revolution.
Jan 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, russia, nyrb
Follows the (fictional) personal and political sagas of several people (purported suspects in the assassination of a high ranking Communist Party official) who are disappeared/imprisoned/executed in Stalin's purges. Quite good.
Introduction: Unextinguished (The Case for Victor Serge), by Susan Sontag

--The Case of Comrade Tulayev
Eleanor Levine
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
best book of 2011 so far. densely populated thoughts. good history/fiction revelation/combination.
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NYRB Classics: The Case of Comrade Tulayev, by Victor Serge 2 14 Oct 19, 2013 03:55PM  

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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
“Perhaps it is a very good thing that we cannot wholly rule our minds and that they force on us ideas and images which we would ignobly prefer to dismiss; thus truth makes its way in spite of egotism and unconsciousness.” 2 likes
“He aquí la muerte, fin de un universo.” 2 likes
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