Conquered city by Victor Serge
Translator – Richard Greenman
Original title – Ville Conquise
Source – Library
Well I have been wanting to try Victor Serge for a long time after reading a few review of his NYRB reissues , then I check my library catalogue and saw they had a 1970’s copy of Conquered city So clicked the button to get it sent up from Derby .Victor Serge is a Russian writer ,Born in Belgium and wrote in French ,he became involved with Marxism and Socialism around the time of the Russian revolution he support the anarchists during the revolution ,he was in Petrograd at this time 1919 .This is the setting for this novel .Post revolution he start to become critical of the Stalin and the regime .Serge’s real life reads like a grand Novel. I love at some point to read a bio of him one day ,He reminds me of other great writers of Russia that followed him Grossman and Solzhennitsym that have also question the regime .Although 80 years old this book still feels very modern .
The long nights seemed reluctant to abandon the city .For a few hours each day a gray light of dawn or dusk filtered through the dirty white cloud ceiling and spread over things like the dim reflection of a distant glacier .Even snow ,which continued to fall ,lacked brightness .This white silent shroud stretched out to infinity in time and space .
setting the scene in the opening lines of Conquered city
So Conquered city follows what happened in St petersberg ,Petorgrad or Leningrad as the city has been known in the 20th century this is the story of the revolution in that city ,as I said before Serge was in the city at the time of the revolution so although this is a novel it has a feel of almost reportage at times .So we get glimpse the main character of this book is the city and the people who lived in it during the revolution and afterwards (well that is hard to say because for a lot of the people it wasn’t living as such ) .We see how well-meaning people with Ideals get easily drawn into doing the wrong things in the white heat of war .We also see Serge question the reason for the revolution and also who really won the war and what happen due to this .
“I can do without everything ” comrade Zverena would say ,in the full voice of unction “except flowers ,don’t laugh at me ” she would add ,”I have had such a sad life !”
One of the comrades with ideals ,but do they last long !
This novel is hard to describe because it breaks the bounds of what a novel is more of a non fiction feel to it at times we get a glimpse of people and action almost like a collection of piece written at the time and put together at a later date .There is a lot of rhetoric in the book as well , given this book was written in 1932 ,when it was obvious Serge is looking back at the time of the revolution ,but also what happen to the city since that time under Lenin the Stalin took charge of Russia has change his view of what he was fighting for at the time but also what his comrades where fighting for as well .Bleak is his outlook this isn’t a book the sings the glories of the Russian revolution no this is a book that lifts the lid of revolutions and what happens in them ,timely was my reading of this book ,given recent events in Egypt how strange it is you change the names and the settings and the story could be the same almost at times .
Have you read Serge ,if so what would you say to read next ?
Has he had a good Biography written ?