Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Midnight in the Century

Midnight in the century by Victor Serge

Russian fiction

Original title –  S’il est minuit dans le siècle

Translator – Richard Greeman

Source – Personal copy

I left it to the last weekend to cover my last two NYRB fortnight reads. The first is the second book by Victor Serge I have covered on the blog I reviewed Conquered city a few years ago I went out and got a few more books from him. Serge had an interesting life growing up in an exiled family in Brussels at the turn of the century he was a firebrand and an anarchist in France in 1912 he was sentenced to five years and then expelled to Spain in 1917. He went to Russia in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks and after that worked in the communist Press service until in 1928 he fell foul of the government and then in 1933 was arrested by Stalin’s police and held for 80 days and the sent in exile in Orenburg a remote city in Russia. He left Russia after two years there.

Mikhail Ivanovich Kostrov, who was not at all superstitous, had a feeling that things were about to happen in his life, They were heralded by almost imperceptable signs. So it was for his arrest. There had been the perculiar tone of voice with which the rector had told him: “Mikhail Ivanovich, I’ve decided to suspend your course for the moment …. you’re up to the directory.* aren’t ypou ? ” Fear obviously, of allusions to the new political turn “So” the rector continued, “prepare me a very short  course on Greece”.

The start of the troubles and Exile for Kostrov when he is called in and arrested.

That two years in Exile is the backbone to this novel and is about a city of Exiles. Chenor also called Blackwaters is where these exiles all live. The place is a mix of Old Bolsheviks like Rhyzik and the narrator, young workers Rodion a man that has taught himself and a splattering of Orthodox church believers and all those that Stalin didn’t want are thrown into the melting pot that is Chenor. It is an insider view into what it was like in Stalin’s Russia as we find out how people got there the fear that everyone at the time lived under the hopelessness of being stuck in exile and no chance of escape. This is the burnt embers of those that shone brightly but were stubbed out by Stalin’s policies and violent regime. We see how Kostrov at the start of the book is sold out by a colleague that was the reason he ended up in Exile. The book sees one of them trying and succeeding in escaping the city.

The forest line grows darker at the horizon. A little over two centuries ago, peasants fleeing serfdom built this little town on the bluff overlooking the river bend. They thought they had gone far enough into the inclement North to be forgotten. They were only half right, but what could they do? however far you flee, your grandchildren will have to flee one day in their turn.

This captures the hopelessness of living in Chenor set up by those that fled serfdom has now trap those there two centuries later.

This is one of those books that draw you into the world he saw that of being an exile and also of living in everyday  Stalin Russia where no one is what the seems. The dreams of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution seems very far and distance in the Russia they are living in. I have read other accounts from the like of Arthur Koestler Darkness at noon (strange the title has a similar tone to the title of this book) also Solzhenitsyn wrote about the cruel nature of the Stalin regime. This is an Orwellian world from the start when our main character is sold out by a colleague at work. Serge is one of those writers that is able to turn his own experience no matter how dark and black they were into touching and heartfelt prose in this great translation.  This is another example of why over the last ten years of the blog I have slowly been buying NYRB books my only wish is they were easily available to buy locally I have brought a few in Sheffield but most I have to buy online. Have you read Serge.

 

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TravellinPenguin
    Oct 13, 2018 @ 21:53:39

    I have not read Serge. What an amazing life he had. Would have been some hard times there. My life seems so hum drum when you read of what some world authors have gone through in their own times. 🤠🐧

    Reply

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Oct 14, 2018 @ 13:12:31

    I’ve read Serge and I love him. As you say his life was so fascinating, and I think his writing is outstanding. He writes about issues but that never gets in the way of his art. I really want to read more now! 🙂

    Reply

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