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Conquered City

Conquered City

Victor Serge's novel, translated by Richard Greeman

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Review

This extraordinary novel, full of twists and turns, giving glimpses of lives under Bolshevik rule, the speedy disillusionment and the increasing betrayals, wastes not a single word as it swoops from universal images of winter city streets to relationships and domestic scenes. --Glasgow Herald

The paradox of freedom and necessity is thoroughly explored through dialogues and descriptions. Serge and his excellent translator Richard Greeman sympathise with the paradox rather than seeing the outcome as inevitable when the idea of Man is pitted against the actuality of people. If such views seem antiquated or foreign, then all the more reason to read Victor Serge with a degree of sympathy. --Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Victor Serge (1890-1947) was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich to Russian anti-Czarist exiles, impoverished intellectuals living "by chance" in Brussels. A precocious anarchist firebrand, young Victor was sentenced to five years in a French penitentiary in 1912. Expelled to Spain in 1917, he participated in an anarcho-syndicalist uprising before leaving for Russia to join the Revolution. Arriving in 1919, after a year in a French concentration camp, Serge joined the Bolsheviks and worked in the press services of the Communist International in Petrograd, Moscow, Berlin, and Vienna. An outspoken critic of Stalin, Serge was expelled from the Party and jailed in 1928. Released and living in Leningrad, he managed to publish three novels (Men in Prison, Birth of Our Power, and Conquered City) and a history of Year One of the Russian Revolution. Arrested again in Russia and deported to Central Asia in 1933, he was allowed to leave the USSR in 1936 after international protests by militants and prominent writers like André Gide and Romain Rolland. Using his insider's knowledge, Serge published a stream of impassioned, documented exposés of Stalin's Moscow show trials and machinations in Spain which went largely unheeded. Stateless, penniless, hounded by Stalinist agents, Serge lived in precarious exile in Brussels, Paris, Vichy France, and Mexico City, where he died in 1947. His classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary and his great last novels, Unforgiving Years and The Case of Comrade Tulayev (the latter also published by NYRB Classics), were written "for the desk drawer" and published posthumously.

Richard Greeman, the translator of four of Victor Serge's novels, has written a doctoral dissertation about Serge along with numerous other studies of his work and life. A collection of Greeman's political essays, Dangerous Shortcuts and Vegetarian Sharks, appeared in 2007.

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