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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us,
and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison." Heinrich Heine

Victor Serge did not have to invent entirely new beasts to pen his vision of the Second World War in the "Unforgiving Years". The...
Published on 2 April 2008 by Leonard Fleisig

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Poetic and chaotic
This is a difficult book. The vocabulary is highly advanced, the prose is poetic and abstract, and the plot is not easy to follow. There were moments while reading it that I nearly felt lost, but there were also moments where I recognized lucid insight and apt awareness. This book belongs in the WWII genre, but it is atypical in its focus. I liked the fact that it did not...
Published on 1 Dec. 2010 by Blackbeard


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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us,, 2 April 2008
By 
Leonard Fleisig "Len" (Virginia Beach, Virginia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Unforgiving Years (Paperback)
and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison." Heinrich Heine

Victor Serge did not have to invent entirely new beasts to pen his vision of the Second World War in the "Unforgiving Years". The beasts that were unleashed by the 20th century's apocalypse were not Serge's creation. However, what Serge has done so masterfully here is to craft a story that looks at this world through the eyes of a few of its participants. The result is a horrific, almost hallucinatory look, at a world gone mad.

Serge was born in Brussels in 1890 to Russian emigre 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.

"Unforgiving Years" is set in four sections and in four locations. In the first section, set in Paris in the days just before the start of WWII, "Secret Agent", we are introduced to Agent D. D is a Soviet agent who has finally had enough of the purges, paranoia, and betrayal that marked Soviet life (both at home and abroad) during the height of Stalin's purges. He has no plans to defect; he simply wants to escape to some place off the grid. He talks to Daria (the one character to appear in all four sections of the book), another agent and former lover to join him. His preparations and their discussions about his departure form the heart of "Secret Agent". This section is filled with the sort of beautifully realized self-critical examination that marked Koestler's dialogues in "Darkness at Noon". It is a remarkable piece of writing.

The second section, "The Flame Beneath the Snow", is set in Leningrad during the worst days of the 900-day siege. Daria has returned from internal exile in Kazakhstan to assist the Red Army's (via the security forces) defense of Leningrad. This is a street-level look at a Soviet city under siege. This is not a look at the battle as much as it is an examination of the life of Daria and her conflicting feelings as she goes about her job amidst death, destruction, and slow-starvation. All feelings are cast aside, or seemingly cast aside. What is left is not love but random acts of gratification.

The third section, "Brigitte, Lighting, Lilacs", takes us two a German city in the final days of the war. Daria is operating behind the lines as an agent, doing what she can to obtain information while protecting partisans and foreign (Eastern European) refugees. What is remarkable here is Serge's treatment of the German civilian population caught in the constant bombardment and devastation of their city. Writing in 1946, when the full scope of the horror of the camps and the devastation of the war generally was still fresh in everyone's mind, Serge's considered treatment of the people of this city presaged W.G. Sebald's Natural History of Destruction by fifty years or so.

Last, Daria and Agent D are reunited at the end of the war in a remote village in Mexico. The conclusion to"Unforgiving Years"is very powerful and,in its own way, entirely fitting.

"Unforgiving Years" paints a picture of a world gone mad as seen through the eyes of Daria and the circle of people she meets along the way. Serge is brutally honest in his view of man in what has to be considered a brutish state of nature. Life is nasty, brutish, and short and people react accordingly. Serge's writing matches this mood and that is what I meant when I said his writing was almost hallucinatory. It jumps in mood and pace seemingly at whim. A character goes from thinking `big thoughts' to focusing on the minutest aspect of a random daily act. But I was engaged from the first page and had trouble putting the book down.

As noted so aptly in the introduction by translator Richard Greeman, Serge asks "how to live if history no longer has a meaning? What remains of human consciousness if society has indeed entered a regressive era of ideological repression and technological pan-destruction?" These are questions that, sad to say, seem as timely now as they were in 1946. "Unforgiving Years" was finished just before Serge's death. It is, undeniably, his masterpiece. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgiving, but worth every moment, 6 Oct. 2011
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This review is from: Unforgiving Years (Paperback)
Victor Serge is largely unknown outside of Russian/European academics, but his books deserve a wider audience. He has now been dead 50 years, but his descriptions of the world of the early 20th Century struggles against both Communism and Fascism are brilliant.
This books contains descriptions of Paris in the 1930's and Leningrad during its WW 2 seige - highyly evocative in both cases, for different reasons......
More people should read this book, and understand the struggles of the 20th century to make for safer world for all.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Poetic and chaotic, 1 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Unforgiving Years (Paperback)
This is a difficult book. The vocabulary is highly advanced, the prose is poetic and abstract, and the plot is not easy to follow. There were moments while reading it that I nearly felt lost, but there were also moments where I recognized lucid insight and apt awareness. This book belongs in the WWII genre, but it is atypical in its focus. I liked the fact that it did not condemn all Germans as warmongerers, and the way that profound thoughts were expressed both by the educated and the uneducated. This book is much more metaphysical than concrete, and does not answer most of its own questions. It also might have benefited by a bit more editing, as it literally travels the world, and introduces new characters right up to the end. All of the characters are well-drawn, but their sheer number makes it difficult to remember very many of them, and the almost abstract plot line makes it difficult to consider it a well-rounded story. After reading this I can confidently say that Victor Serge was a good writer, but I just found this book too chaotic to have given it a higher rating.
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Unforgiving Years
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge (Paperback - 2 May 2008)
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