Unforgiving Years

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The book is arranged into four sections, like the panels of an immense mural or the movements of a symphony. In the first, D, a lifelong revolutionary who has broken with the Communist Party and expects retribution at any moment, flees through the streets of prewar Paris, haunted by the ghosts of his past and his fears for the future.

The third part is set in Germany. On a dangerous assignment behind the lines, Daria finds herself in a city destroyed by both Allied bombing and Nazism, where the populace now confronts the prospect of total defeat.

The novel closes in Mexico, in a remote and prodigiously beautiful part of the New World where D and Daria are reunited, hoping that they may at last have escaped the grim reckonings of their modern era. A visionary novel, a political novel, a novel of adventure, passion, and ideas, of despair and, against all odds, of hope, Unforgiving Years is a rediscovered masterpiece by the author of The Case of Comrade Tulayev.

Victor Serge, translated from the French and with an introduction by Richard Greeman. Translated into electric English by Richard Greeman, Unforgiving Years is a seething, hallucinatory novel. Serge remains sophisticated even during the book's more noirish moments, and action sequences form an inseparable part of his hypnotic, prophetic vision. In Herr Schiff, a rigid German pedant with a sentimental love of lilacs, or in the creepy Monsieur Gobfin, a nosy Parisian hotel clerk eager to betray D to his pursuers, or in a dozen other characters, Serge saw the conflicted individual beneath the tempting stereotype.

This led him not to justify his characters but to see them whole; in their desperate meanness and their fitful decency, they may consider themselves as dwelling in "the bottom of a jar where they were waiting to shrivel dry for all eternity," as one of them says, but even the least of them has an unforgettable presence on the page. It is only when D realizes that his Comintern activities lead only from one murder to the next, and not to a better society, or even the promise of one, that he naively submits a letter of resignation to his superiors, and the hunt is on.

For D as well as for Daria, the real heroine of the novel and Serge's greatest fictional creation , there is no escape from the logic of revolution; however high-minded its premises, it almost always has murder as its conclusion.

Reading the World Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge « Three Percent

Even before I emerged from childhood, I seem to have experienced, deeply at heart, that paradoxical feeling which was to dominate me all through the first part of my life: that of living in a world without any possible escape, in which there was nothing for it but to fight for an impossible escape. As it turned out, perhaps to his own surprise, there was an escape. It presented itself not in the creation of a new and better world, but in the faithful depiction of this one, wicked and terrible as it is.

Only through a merciless exactitude of eye could compassion become possible in such a world. That revolution was real. Submission of reader comments is restricted to NY Sun sustaining members only.

If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here:. Join now! Christopher Columbus and the Shape of Things to Come. Patrick J. Buchanan's Know-Nothing History. Shuffling Through Memories: B. Original Title. Other Editions 7. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Unforgiving Years , please sign up. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Feb 05, William2 rated it it was amazing Shelves: translation , ce , belgium , russia , france , ww-ii , mexico.

An elegant literary thriller. He sends his letter of resignation prematurely to his superior, and then he and Nadine must run. The nosy concierge, Gobfin, is an effete stool pigeon right out of Simenon who scares the living piss out of our heroes, who continue to run. We join Daria in the dead of winter descending into besieged Leningrad aboard a flak-riddled transport plane.

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Daria strikes us at first as a hypocrite, mouthing the absurd Soviet platitudes. For no names, no specifics about her many clandestine missions can ever be set to paper. After D and Paris her heart is no longer in the revolution. Once in Leningrad one million Red Army soldiers and , civilians killed she sleeps — how can she not! Daria is assigned a desk job under Captain Potapov, whose long Dostoyevskian speech is a wonder of tortuous ratiocination.

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On the Revolutionary Road: Victor Serge's 'Unforgiving Years'

So we find ourselves at a disadvantage, half beaten, yet doubly invincible since we cannot be beaten further without succumbing, and it is absolutely impossible for us to succumb He wanted to choose his moment, ensure his dominance over a hinterland, seize a great and serviceable port and not an isolated city, requiring to be fed, however little It was a sensible decision but that moment has passed, never to return.

In strategy as in life, lost opportunities are lost for good. The single factor of action with an overwhelming probability of disobedience is time, which is an admirable factor of inaction Then Daria is assigned to work with six soldiers ordered to crawl across the frozen Neva, behind enemy lines, and capture one or more Germans for questioning. The Allies are perhaps a week away from occupying the city. We begin in an air-raid shelter. Here is Brigitte, reduced to a tragic existence on the edge of madness, and Minus Two, a street-wise, prosthesis-adorned veteran.

There are descriptions of Berlin streetscapes here that will curl your hair, or straighten it, depending. The overwhelming sense of loss, of destitution I can only hint at. This is the section of insanity. Many buildings have fallen on civilians which now reek of their contents. Every night the streets are destroyed but in the morning women and youngsters come out with their crude brooms to sweep up a semblance of the street grid. When the writing dips into the thoughts of Brigitte we are adrift, unmoored, grasping at figments.

A stealthy tremor was starting up at the base of her being, like the buzzing of malevolent insects in the gloom, like the approach of a solitary bomber in the sky. It was only the approach of the nameless terror, senseless, bottomless, lightless, lifeless and deathless, unspeakable, unendurable, ungraspable, imponderable; a wave rising from the very depths of darkness Brigitte was tearing something to pieces, trying to rip the smallest shreds between sore fingers until her nails were tearing at one another.

What more to destroy, how to sleep, where to disappear?


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She began reeling about the narrow room in short, crazed lunges. Minus Two combs the lethal streets at night — amid groups of armed rouges, official and otherwise — to see what he can scrounge, for much can be traded on the black market for food. Then the section shifts to a battlefield surgery behind the ever contracting German lines. In part four, "Journey's End," we return to Daria, now in flight.

She is not entirely sure she is not followed. Much of what she goes through here smacks of PTSD.

Daria takes ship, moves through American heartland, describing an arc from Brooklyn to the mid-west and south to Mexico. Where Serge himself made his final home, where he wrote this novel and Comrade Tulayev as well as his revolutionary memoirs, knowing they would not be published in his lifetime. That, my friends, is commitment. Daria joins D and Nadine hidden away in a backwater under aliases. Meaning often eluded me. Needless to say, I believe it was the former. Even with this stylistic quibble, however, I give the novel five stars and ardently recommended it. PS Unforgiving Years would make a fantastic movie.

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View all 10 comments. Feb 26, Szplug rated it it was amazing. When, at last, you open your eyes after feeling the day's warmth full upon your face, what if the vision that stands before you reveals not a golden, lambent orb levering itself free from earthly bonds but millions upon millions of souls aflame, burning spirits in solar flare, emancipated from the cadavers to light the gaping maw of hell?

Would you weep for the murdered revolution? Would you recognize its tomb for the abyss? The above bit of symbolic lugubriousness does a fair job of summing up t When, at last, you open your eyes after feeling the day's warmth full upon your face, what if the vision that stands before you reveals not a golden, lambent orb levering itself free from earthly bonds but millions upon millions of souls aflame, burning spirits in solar flare, emancipated from the cadavers to light the gaping maw of hell? The above bit of symbolic lugubriousness does a fair job of summing up the absolute core of Serge's brilliantly bleak and despairing quadtych, set in and around the cataclysmic mechanical destruction that comprised the Second World War—but it is, really, so much more.

I'd held back from posting a more detailed review, simply because I felt a tad unsure of how to proceed in lauding this work of concupiscible and coruscating darkness, a hallucinatory nightmare conjured forth from the dimmest recess of hell at the beck of a squirming and sweating recumbent mind suffering all the painful withdrawals from a cherished and necessary belief. It's an unendingly grim—but, ultimately, hopeful—slice of tragedy, along with Vasily Grossman's epic Life and Fate the single best depiction of how utterly disabled in purpose and faith a legion of dedicated communists were rendered when the brutal truth of the terrible and murderous perversions worked upon the glorious Revolution by the despot Stalin—and, by complicity, themselves—could no longer be ignored or explained away.

Based in part upon his own experiences, in another of those of select personages he had encountered during his peripatetic life as a man without state, Serge created a circle of four members of the Comintern—two old communists, the introspective, calculating, and philosophical D. In the opening section, entitled The Secret Agent , D. Unable to work any further towards the corrupted ends of Historical Materialism, he announces his resignation—a decision that, to a senior Comintern agent, is answerable only by death.

Serge exquisitely portrays here a Paris on the cusp of disaster, all strained grins and frippery and drunken revels and nervous glancing over one's shoulder. As the shadows lengthen, D. With Alain devastated by this betrayal by an idealized boss and passionate lover, and Daria refusing, in the end, to accompany the pair into exile, sublimating her desire to do so to the more powerful strictures of service to the Grand Cause, all of the frantic hiding and panicked dodging and near misses are never explicity revealed as existing in reality—are they, perhaps, the illusory terrors teased forth by a pair of guilty and depressed minds?

The second section is a stunning depiction of a starving, filthy, and emaciated Leningrad during the hardcore nine hundred-day siege. Daria—brought to the city from a term of exile in the Kazakh deserts imposed as punishment for her close relationship with the traitor D. This is an immensely beautiful and lyrical portrayal, a gelid, frozen city constantly visited by overburdened blankets of steel that blot out the sky and endlessly contribute more cottony bounty to the omnipresent snow that bleaches everything to a shade of white as aptly empty as the resolute city denizen's bellies.

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