What follows is the text of our most recent Classics newsletter. If you'd like to receive these twice-monthly offers, visit the subscription page.
<p><p><p><p><p><p><p><p><p><p><p><p>A Letter from the Editor</p></p></p></p></p></p></p></p></p></p></p></p>
Victor Serge's Unforgiving Years
A few words about Victor Serge, his too-long-delayed recognition as a great writer, and Unforgiving Years, Serge's last novel, completed before his death in 1946 but not published in the original French until 1971, and only now appearing in English translation. Serge's extraordinary life—as a youth, he was imprisoned in France for his anarchist connections; he fought in the Russian Revolution, only to denounce the Bolsheviks for their abuses of power; he was exiled by Stalin to Siberia, then miraculously released and deported from the USSR; he spent his last years as an increasingly lonely prophet of the anti-Communist left—all this has led to the neglect of Serge's no less extraordinary accomplishment as a novelist. He is one of the greatest of twentieth-century political novelists, and his work more than holds its own—I'd even say overshadows—that of contemporaries like Andre Malraux and Ignazio Silone, not to mention such fading Cold War relics as 1984 and Darkness at Noon.
Serge's neglect can be attributed to various things: not only the fact that he was always and everywhere an outsider, but also, somewhat paradoxically, to his work's being imbued, even in the face of horror, with an irrepressible, almost incorrigible, vitality. Serge writes about people caught in the tightening vice of an unforgivingly political world, but he never succumbs to the belief that this is the only world there is—that politics is, much less should be, the be-all and end-all of existence—any more than he supposes that there is any way of simply opting out, hands clean, of the political world. He contemplates political realities unflinchingly, without allowing them to intimidate his imagination. He retains an expansive sense of possibility, a commitment to the boundless—one that finds particular expression in his love of the natural world. In The Case of Comrade Tulayev (reissued as an NYRB Classic with an introduction that is one of Susan Sontag's most ambitious and thoughtful late statements), an old Bolshevik returns from the Gulag to Moscow by sled—he is being summoned, he has no doubt, to his death—and Serge gives this trip an altogether unexpected turn, transforming it into an astonishing, beautifully specific meditation on the night sky and the immensity of the Russian taiga. The world, Serge never doubts, is bigger than what human beings make of it. There is a saving horizon beyond our ends and means.
Unforgiving Years displays the same reach and the same richness, whether describing the rainy labyrinthine streets of a demoralized pre–World War II Paris, the siege of Leningrad, or the surreal ruins of a bombed-out German city on the verge of being overrun by the Allies. (It is a measure of Serge's imaginative range and sympathy that he should be the author of one of the first—and to this day one one of the most striking—literary descriptions of the German experience of defeat.) The last scenes are laid in Mexico, where those left standing are reunited in a landscape that is at once lush and severe, a prolific new world that, however, is still overshadowed by the old one, a place where the abiding truths of nature and the passing struggles of history converge in an uncanny perspective. The book has an epic scope—it is a picture of a planet in convulsion—without foregoing the detail of everyday life or a sense of the moment. It is a spy story and a war story and (several) love stories, gripping and terrifying, passionate and thoughtful, while the men and women in it—they include secret agents, true believers, philosophers, artists, and assassins—are at once larger than life and powerfully alive. I'm happy that this wonderful book should at last be seeing the light of the day in English as an NYRB Classic. I hope that it will introduce new readers to a major modern writer—who, as it just happens, was also a hero of our time.
Edwin Frank, Editor
P.S. One additional reason for Serge's neglect may be that, though he wrote in French, at heart he was a Russian novelist. His parents were Russian radicals in exile from the Tsarist regime. Serge himself was, as mentioned above, deeply involved in the Russian Revolution. If you're interested in Serge you might well want to look at these other NYRB Classics, too.
The offers below do expire so order soon...
By Victor Serge
Translated and with an introduction by Richard Greeman
Special Offer: $11.96
The Case of Comrade Tulayev
By Victor Serge
Introduction by Susan Sontag
Translated by Willard R. Trask
Special Offer: $11.21
Life & Fate
Retail price: $22.95
Special Offer: $17.21 (25% off)
Retail price: $12.95
Special Offer: $9.71 (25% off)
Retail price: $15.95
Special Offer: $11.96 (25% off)
Retail price: $23.95
Special Offer: $16.77 (30% off)
Retail price: $16.95
Special Offer: $12.71(25% off)
Retail price: $14.95
Special Offer: $11.21 (25% off)