By Victor Serge.
Great writing. And, by association a great translation. A well-formed novel and Serge then has the space to play and tease out philosophies and characters. This novel moves from Revolutionary Barcelona in 1917 to Petersburg and the journey in between. There’s still quite a lot of Serge for me to read. Excellent.
“Will you have some coffee? One should always appreciate coffee in troubled times. Humanity is wailing and suffering: let us sip the delectable mocha slowly; mine will be the egoist’s cup, yours whatever you wish; but it will leave the same bittersweet taste in our mouths.”
“The art of living consists in thinking. There are a few good moments: that is when, book in hand, you can lie down in the grass for an hour …”
By Victor Serge.
Also included in this review is ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Marx and Engels as I re-read it at the same time.
This is a very interesting novel – it leaps about a bit but keeps you interested. It can be seen as a detailed critique of the Soviet system. Serge was a life-long revolutionary but the novels near the end of his life were critical of the Bolshevik regime at a time when the writers and intellectuals were adamantly pro-soviet. As a result he was ostracised by the literary establishment in the West as well as in Russia. Serge also wrote his novels in French so this made him even more of an outsider. When Serge was imprisoned, Andre Gide managed to intercede to secure his release. Therefore Serge became the only Soviet writer to have been imprisoned for an extended spell and then released and allowed to leave the country. Gide went to on to publish a critique of the Soviet Union in 1937 and was viewed as a traitor, as well as Serge, to the cause of Socialism which was being fought for in Spain. This ‘betrayal of Spain’ followed Gide until his death.
The analysis of life in the Soviet Union in the Case of Comrade Tulayev was very detailed. I always thought that Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon’ was the best novel of its type but after reading The Case of Comrade Tulayev it seems quite narrow. Serge covers so much in his 360 pages.
As for the Communist Manifesto, I enjoyed reading it again. Some of it is mostly of historical significance now – the later chapters. But, the analysis of history in relation to class struggle still resonates.
I recommend reading The Case of Comrade Tulayev at the same time as the Manifesto. The sincere intention followed by the insincere result.
Soundtrack: The Eels – ‘End Times’ LP.