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.
Translated into electric English by Richard Greeman, Unforgiving Years is a seething, hallucinatory novel.
— John Leonard, Harper’s
Serge remains sophisticated even during the book’s more noirish moments, and action sequences form an inseparable part of his hypnotic, prophetic vision.
— Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review
Unforgiving Years, published in France in 1971 and translated into English this year, is a visionary literary work rooted in the political tragedy of a Soviet secret agent who tries to take back his existence from the Party. The settings are prewar Paris, the siege of Leningrad, the fall of Berlin, and a postwar refuge in Mexico. This is the ultimate farewell to Communism.
— The Boston Globe
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.
— John Berger
Serge, who has been championed by Susan Sontag and many others, was born in Brussels in 1899 to emigre Russians who’d fled the Czar. He became a political activist, was jailed and arrived in Russia in 1919 to support the Bolshevik Revolution. He rose high in the Comintern before falling foul of Stalin and finding himself in jail and then exile. He was steamrolled by history, and out of this experience he crafted a series of extraordinary memoirs and novels. Unforgiving Years, here translated into English for the first time by Richard Greeman, tells the story of two revolutionaries, D and his friend Daria, as they approach, endure and survive World War II. This is downbeat and dangerous mise-en-scene…written for real by a man who was there.
— Los Angeles Times
Serge can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system.