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Unforgiving Years

Book Review by Christophe Chataigné, May 2008

Victor Serge, New York Review of Books, £9.99

The life of Victor Serge was fascinating. Born in Belgium in 1890, editor of an anarchist paper in France in 1908, imprisoned for five years from 1912, he eventually found his way to Russia in 1919 after having heard about the 1917 Revolution while in Spain. A few months later he joined the Bolsheviks, and remained faithful to the ideals of the October Revolution till his death in 1947. Like some revolutionaries who were involved in Trotsky's Left Opposition he had to leave Russia to survive Stalin's purges.

Serge was also a great writer as Unforgiving Years shows. Available for the first time in English (it was first published in French 25 years after his death) this novel is written in a style that shows how revolution impacts on every facet of life.

It is set at the time of the Second World War and divided in four parts. The first is set in pre-war Paris. Agent D, a revolutionary of the old guard disillusioned with the Communist Party decides to break away, knowing what the consequences might be. In the second we follow D's friend Daria during the siege of Leningrad - a siege that Serge brings frighteningly to life. The third part brings us to Germany on the eve of defeat. The novel ends in Mexico where D and Daria meet again.

It is probably Serge's best novel, but anyone who doesn't know his writings should also read his Memoirs of a Revolutionary.

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