Unforgiving Years is a thrilling and terrifying journey into the disastrous, blazing core of the twentieth century. Victor Serge’s final novel, here translated into English for the first time, is at once the most ambitious, bleakest, and most lyrical of this neglected major writer’s works.
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. Part two finds D’s friend and fellow revolutionary Daria caught up in the defense of a besieged Leningrad, the horrors and heroism of which Serge brings to terrifying life. 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.
Born in Brussels of Russian revolutionary exiles, Serge (1890 1947) has long had a reputation as polemicist and journalist, but this powerful novel of the descent into WWII makes a strong case for his political fiction. In the pressured atmosphere just preceding the outbreak of war, a secret agent, D., breaks with the "Organization" Stalin's spy network and escapes from Paris with his lover, Nadine. With extreme paranoia that he cloaks in exquisite manners, D. tells only one person where they are going: an old comrade named Daria. In the next, flash-forward section, Daria, having been arrested, is released from exile in a Soviet backwater and thrust into the siege of Leningrad. The third section opens in 1945 Berlin, where Daria witnesses a host of Germans, injured and half crazy, try to survive aerial bombardment a moment that, as W.G. Sebald noted, has been deeply underserved by literature. In the final section, Daria escapes Europe and follows D. and Nadine to Mexico, escaping (she thinks) the long reach of Stalin's agents. Serge remains sophisticated even during the book's more noirish moments, and action sequences form an inseparable part of his hypnotic, prophetic vision.