In 1933, Victor Serge was arrested by Stalin’s police, interrogated, and held in solitary confinement for more than eighty days. Released, he spent two years in exile in remote Orenburg. These experiences were the inspiration for Midnight in the Century, Serge’s searching novel about revolutionaries living in the shadow of Stalin’s betrayal of the revolution.
Among the exiles gathered in the town of Chenor, or Black-Waters, are the granite-faced Old Bolshevik Ryzhik, stoic yet gentle Varvara, and Rodion, a young, self-educated worker who is trying to make sense of the world and history. They struggle in the unlikely company of Russian Orthodox Old Believers who are also suffering for their faith. Against unbelievable odds, the young Rodion will escape captivity and find a new life in the wild. Surviving the dark winter night of the soul, he rediscovers the only real, and most radical, form of resistance: hope.
Fiction, for Serge, is truth—the truth of self-transcendence, the obligation to give voice to those who are mute or who have been silenced… . The presumptive case for exempting Serge from the oblivion that awaits most heroes of truth lies, finally, in the excellence of his fiction.
Whatever he wrote, including his fiction, was a kind of personal history of the Left, in haste, in bloody ink, on bandages. Like Koestler in Darkness at Noon, Serge seems to be saying that man, the particular, is more important than mankind, the abstraction.
—John Leonard, The New York Times
Victor Serge was, and remains, unique: the only novelist to describe successfully, from the inside, the now long-lost milieu of the socialist movement in Europe, its Soviet product, and its destruction by Stalinism. He has been described as a political Ishmael, comparable to the lone survivor of the wrecked Pequod.
—Stephen Schwartz, The New Criterion
He was an eyewitness of events of world historical importance, of great hope and even greater tragedy. His political recollections are very important, because they reflect so well the mood of this lost generation. His novels will find readers now because they help grant an understanding of the aftermath of the Russian revolution and its impact on militants and intellectuals, a world of yesterday almost as distant from subsequent generations as the Napoleonic wars…His articles and books speak for themselves, and we would be poorer without them.
A witness to revolution and reaction in Europe between the wars, Serge searingly evoked the epochal hopes and shattering setbacks of a generation of leftists. Yet under the bleakest of conditions, Serge’s optimism, his humane sympathies and generous spirit, never waned. A radical misfit, no faction, no sect could contain him; he inhabited a no-man’s-land all his own. These qualities are precisely what make him such an inspiring, even moving figure.
—Matthew Price, Bookforum
A special class of literature that has arisen out of the European political struggle.
The work of the writer Victor Serge faultlessly captures the labyrinth of bureaucratic incrimination into which the Soviet Union descended.
Serge can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system.
I know of no other writer with whom Serge can be very usefully compared. The essence of the man and his books is to be found in his attitude to the truth. There have of course been many scrupulously honest writers. But for Serge the value of the truth extended far beyond the simple (or complex) telling of it.