Who? A return to Victor Serge – full-time revolutionary, part-time ultra-pessimist.
What? His final novel, a hallucinatory swirl of twentieth century horrors.
When? 1947, shortly before his death in Mexico City.
How? Unforgiving Years is structured symphonically, with four disparate movements connected thematically and stylistically: ‘The Secret Agent’ [set in prewar Paris], ‘The Flame Beneath the Snow’ [Leningrad under siege], ‘Brigitte, Lightning, Lilacs’ [the fall of Berlin] and ‘Journey’s End’ [postwar rural Mexico].
Why? Unforgiving Years represents the most intense reading experience I’ve had during the past year of TARP. It absorbed a month of my reading life, each page demanding complete attention and staying with me well after reading. It is one of the bleakest views of twentieth century Europe imaginable; it is in fact a nightmare. The few glimmers of hope that shine through the enduring pessimism provide only minor relief from Serge’s complete lack of levity and utter Franco-Russian philosophical bent. The Years he describes are heavy, black and unrelentingly cruel. His toll on the reader is equally unforgiving. Impossible to forget.
Unforgiving Years is available as an NYRB paperback, translated and introduced by Richard Greeman.
8 October 2017