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The Case of Comrade Tulayev (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – June 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A conspiracy unfolds against the backdrop of the show trials and purges of Stalin's Russia in this novel, available in English for the first time in 20 years.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of the great 20th-Century Russian novels…there are extraordinary passages of natural description, a beauty that defies what takes place within it.
— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

The brilliance of his novel utterly ineluctable as it sweeps across 1930’s Europe from the gulags to the Kremlin, to Paris and to Barcelona.
— The Times (London)

The Case of Comrade Tulayev is gritty and rough, saturated in the squalor of Moscow life; but it also pulses with lyrical flights that take us up into the stars, which represent for Serge the regenerative, transformative moments the History promises but has yet to deliver. Tulayev is infused with mysticism; it is a work of cosmic longing, as if Serge is turning to the eternity of the universe itself to avoid the utter despair right in front of his face.
— Matthew Price, Bookforum

It is a protest novel no less significant and no more dated than Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. These novels recreate the feel of daily existence years ago, animate the history texts, and give readers an irreplaceable personal perspective. Books like these ensure the past is not forgotten….The quality of life depicted in The Case of Comrade Tulayev showed why the Stalinist monolith could not endure.
— Joe Auciello, Socialist Action

Given the standard of fortitude, and given the contempt Serge always felt for Stalin’s collaborators, a remarkable feature of The Case of Comrade Tulayev is its chiaroscuro….That Serge intended no lenience here we may be sure, but we may likewise be sure that he would never have swallowed the later euphemisms and half-truths of Khrushchev, putting blame for all the enormities of an epoch on the evil of a single individual.
— Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly

Serge can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system.
— Scott McLemee

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (June 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170644
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170649
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Victor Serge (1889-1947) is best known as a novelist - with two of his works recently republished by the New York Review of Books - and for his Memoirs of a Revolutionary. Originally a participant in the anarchist movement, Serge became a committed bolshevik upon arrival in Russia during 1919 and lent his considerable talents to the cause of spreading the revolution across Europe. An eloquent critic of tyranny no matter its form, Serge was a leading member of the Left Opposition in its struggle against Stalin, a cause which ultimately resulted in his exile from Russia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 63 people found the following review helpful By F. P. da Costa on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a forgotten masterpiece! Its author, Victor Serge, was born in Belgium in 1890, of exiled russian parents, become an anarchist, went to revolutionary Russia in 1919 where he fought for the Bolsheviks, then became a left oppositionist to Stalin, being expelled from the Party, emprisioned and deported to Central Asia, then expelled from the Soviet Union in 1936 as a result of an international campaign. He died in Mexico in 1947. Of his many works, this novel is widely regarded as his fictional masterpiece, considered by many as the finest piece of literature ever written about the stalinist purges. This is indeed a wonderfully conceived work, with a structure that in a certain sense seems to mirror conditions under Stalin's reign: Tulayev, a member of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party is murdered by mere chance, in the first chapter, by an anonymous disgruntled moscovite youth. Then, in suceeding chapters, members of government, party funcionaries, and known oppositionists (all of them entirely innoced of this particular crime,) are charged of being part of a wide conspiracy, arrested and interrogated. As the action unfolds, the diverse independent characters become ever more connected, at least in the perpective of the officials in charge of the investigation, not a few of which end up also arrested as conspirators... After a number of life sentences for the supposed plot are passed on and duly executed, the true culprit discover by change, in the last chapter, the tragic dimensions his act has produced. The way the main investigator of the case deals with the anonymous letter he receives from the murderer is a telling parable of a totalitariam state contempt for the truth. All this evolved story is written with such a superb wit, and even brilliancy at times, that the reading of this book is made into an indelible experience.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By John Borland on June 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
It is almost criminal that a book this beautiful and this important is unread, and almost forgotten. Some of Serge's fiction barely qualifies as such, written more as an essay than as a novel. Not so this. It does have an unusual structure, with each chapter focusing on a seperate character caught up in an absurd -- but utterly terrifying -- purge under Stalin. Yet each character is exquisitely drawn, with even the most despicable people rendered human and sympathetic in some way. The scenes, from a snowy Moscow night to a vast Siberian plain to a Spanish civil war hideaway, are stunningly evoked.

This should be read with the best fiction of the last century, not consigned to the back shelves with cold war historical documents and Soviet oddities. Serge speaks to terror and freedom of thought, existential choices and the ability to reconcile oneself to imperfect realities. Utterly inspiring.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on December 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
This political novel tells the story of the murder (organized by Stalin, according to R. Medvedev) of comrade Kirov, the very popular head of the Leningrad party district.
The consequences of the murder were terrible: deportations, show trials, executions, a total 'cleansing' of the communist party and a liquidation of the party delegates in the Parliament.
This book gives an excellent portrait of the atmosphere in the USSR under Stalin just before World War II: suspicion, despondency, embitterment, poverty, prostitution, insecurity, theft.
As Marx said: I sowed dragons and I harvested fleas.
At the time of the publication of his book, Victor Serge was heavily criticized by the hardliners in the Western CP's, because he was a Trotskyist and his picture should be biased.
But in fact, the situation was even more catastrophic (see 'Harvest of Sorrow' by Roger Conquest).
A still very readable book. Not only for historians.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lonya VINE VOICE on August 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
in time the mind will make chains snap." Victor Serge.

Victor Serge's novel "The Case of Comrade Tulayev" is set in the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, long before "the chains wore out." It is a classic and haunting look at Soviet society during an era of party purges, show trials, and executions that deserves a place of honor on any reading list that also includes Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon", George Orwell's "1984" and Vasily Grossman's "Forever Flowing" .

Serge, born in Brussels in 1890 to Russian emigre parents, returned to Russia early in 1919 in order to support the newly created Soviet Union. He served as both a writer and journalist. However, Serge was one of the first of the old-line revolutionaries to oppose Stalin's concentration of power. He was arrested, expelled from the party, released, and arrested again. Finally, in 1936 after a public campaign by leading European political and literary figures, Serge was released and deported to France. He eventually found his way to Mexico where he died, penniless, in 1947.

The Case of Comrade Tulayev mirrors in some respects the murder of Sergei Kirov that set off Stalin's first great purge beginning in 1934. The story begins with the almost accidental murder of a leading member of the Central Committee, Comrade Tulayev by a disaffected clerk. The Chief (Serge's allusion to Stalin) immediately commences a round of purges, investigations, show trials and executions. The rest of the book takes us on a chapter-by-chapter account of a group of individuals caught up in the aftermath of the murder. Each individual represents a different component of Soviet society, from the lowly clerk to the high-ranking party functionary to the `oppositionist' already living in exile in Siberia.
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