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Conquered City (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 11, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159017366X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590173664
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #650,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Victor Serge was, and remains, unique: the only novelist to describe successfully, from the inside, the now long-lost milieu of the socialist movement in Europe, its Soviet product, and its destruction by Stalinism. He has been described by myself and others as a political Ishmael, comparable to the lone survivor of the wrecked vessel Pequod in Melville’s Moby-Dick.” —Stephen Schwartz, The New Criterion

A witness to revolution and reaction in Europe between the wars, Serge searingly evoked the epochal hopes and shattering setbacks of a generation of leftists. Yet under the bleakest of conditions, Serge’s optimism, his humane sympathies and generous spirit, never waned. A radical misfit, no faction, no sect could contain him; he inhabited a no-man’s-land all his own. These qualities are precisely what make him such an inspiring, even moving figure.” —Matthew Price, Bookforum

“I know of no other writer with whom Serge can be very usefully compared. The essence of the man and his books is to be found in his attitude to the truth. There have of course been many scrupulously honest writers. But for Serge the value of the truth extended far beyond the simple (or complex) telling of it.” —John Berger

“A special class of literature that has arisen out of the European political struggle.” —George Orwell

“The work of the writer Victor Serge faultlessly captures the labyrinth of bureaucratic incrimination into which the Soviet Union descended.” —The Atlantic

“Serge, who has been championed by Susan Sontag and many others, was born in Brussels in 1899 to émigré Russians who'd fled the Czar. He became a political activist, was jailed and arrived in Russia in 1919 to support the Bolshevik Revolution. He rose high in the Comintern before falling foul of Stalin and finding himself in jail and then exile. He was steamrolled by history, and out of this experience he crafted a series of extraordinary memoirs and novels." —Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times

"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

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Leonard Fleisig VINE VOICE on January 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
Attributed to Danton shortly before his date with a guillotine.

Early on in Victor Serge's "Conquered City" I came across a passage that I think sums up quite nicely the book's underlying message: "We have conquered everything and everything has slipped out of our grasp. We have conquered bread, and there is famine. We have declared peace to a war-weary world, and war has moved into every house. We have proclaimed the liberation of men, and we need prisons. . . We wanted to give each according to his strength and each to receive according to his needs, and here we are, privileged in the middle of generalized misery, since we are less hungry than others." Serge a committed revolutionary saw earlier than most of his colleagues that `his' revolution could also turn inward and begin to devour its own.

Serge was born in Brussels in 1890 to Russian émigré parents. He 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 (Andre Gide was one); Serge was released and deported to France. He eventually found his way to Mexico where he died, penniless, in 1947.

Written in 1931/1932, Conquered City is one of Serge's earlier works and it shows. It is not the better crafted writing that you see in
...Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary Wilbur on May 20, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Conquered City" is Victor Serge's third novel, and according to its translator, Richard Greeman, "the starkest and darkest" of them. Serge wrote it in 1930-31 about ten years after the Civil War in Leningrad, which is the novel's historical landscape. "Conquered City" is about terror, the Red Terror and the White Terror, but mainly the Red. Its protagonists are idealistic Party members who have taken over the government and acquired the "weapons of power," i.e. the tools of a police state, in the belief that they can use them righteously to defend the city from threats from without, the White Army and its Allies, and from within: spies, fifth columnists, anarchists, speculators, dissidents of any nature. In addition, famine and typhus are raging, sapping the revolutionary will of the proletariat and making them vulnerable to counterrevolutionary tendencies.

In writing this novel Serge tried to create a cross-section of the entire social fabric of the city under siege. Thus, there are numerous minor characters who appear only briefly, and major characters who make widely separated appearances. He wrote to Marcel Martinet in 1930 that his goal was to "'reconstitute with the greatest accuracy and precision the atmosphere of one period of the Russian Revolution. . . . I would like to dramatize the conflict of that power grappling with history and itself--and victorious.'" (xiii) He succeeded in his imitation of the ruthlessness and barberism of that effort.

I have to add that I have read few writers who can picture a landscape, a cityscape, or the sky as beautifully as Serge does. His depictions of clouds reflected in the river or the frost that covers everything in winter is that of an acute and sensitive observer. I haven't read any comments anywhere about this feature of Serge's literary gifts, but it is should be mentioned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Smith-Peter on July 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating but uneven book about the years of the Civil War (between Bolsheviks and their opponents) in St. Petersburg. What I liked best about the book was the extremely evocative descriptions of St. Petersburg, which I've visited many times. He really captures the sense of place. In addition, you really feel what the misery of the Civil War was like, with the riches of Imperial Russia still around in quantity, yet with frozen pipes, ruined houses and a general lack of sanitation.

The first part of the novel seems to be a celebration of the revolution and/or its potential. About halfway through a first-person narrator comes in and ruminates on how the old regime had to be destroyed. This unfortunate tendency is all too apparent throughout the book.

Then the second half of the book turns into an account of the losses of the revolution. We meet a wide range of people with tragic fates and we partly come to understand the individual and social scope of the tragedy.

I have to admit that I didn't find the dialogue or the characters as impressive as the cityscape, though. Still, it's an interesting work.

Those who want to read great works on the Russian Civil War should start with Bunin and Babel, however.
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