Conquered city by Victor Serge


Conquered city by Victor Serge

Russian Fiction

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 ?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 16:01:16

    This is the only Victor Serge book I’ve read and I liked it very much (there is a review on my blog). I also have The Case of Comrade Tulayev on Mount TBR! There is a “political biography” available from Verso but I don’t know what it’s like I’m afraid.


  2. Scott W.
    Aug 16, 2013 @ 18:20:38

    I read Memoirs of a Revolutionary last year and thought it was great, even an essential book, a remarkable “inside” view of the Russian Revolution and of its devastating aftermath. What really struck me – besides the sheer volume of the executions, killings and disappearances Serge recounts on nearly every page – was the conviction and commitment of so many who supported the revolution only to see it betrayed.

    I like that you pulled out such a lyrical passage – while Memoirs largely consists of recitations of events and portraits of the players (I found the latter immensely helpful when I later read Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate), occasionally Serge provides powerfully lyrical and moving descriptions.


  3. Lisa Hill
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 02:51:21

    It sounds a bit like Petersburg by Andrei Bely – that was a fascinating book! (See
    When did Serge write it?


  4. Tony
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 06:25:12

    Another good find – Russian lit does beckon… (maybe next year!)


  5. Max Cairnduff
    Aug 17, 2013 @ 13:59:12

    I haven’t read anything by him, so this will likely be my first. Petersburg was already on my list, but this may be a good taster before that (not diminishing it by saying that, just reflecting their respective lengths).


  6. Trackback: Midnight in the century by Victor Serge | Winstonsdad's Blog
  7. Erik
    Jul 12, 2019 @ 15:59:18

    Read midnight in the century, the case of Comrade tulyev and unforgiving years. His books are all amazing, though his later works have an intimacy and passion the younger works do not.

    As for bio, he does have his memoirs, which are said to be a great read as well…


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August 2013


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