Midnight in the Century (NYRB Classics) (Paperback)
NYRB Classics, 9781590177709, 240pp.
Publication Date: December 16, 2014
In 1933, Victor Serge was arrested by Stalin’s police, interrogated, and held in solitary confinement for more than eighty days. Released, he spent two years in exile in remote Orenburg. These experiences were the inspiration for Midnight in the Century, Serge’s searching novel about revolutionaries living in the shadow of Stalin’s betrayal of the revolution.
Among the exiles gathered in the town of Chenor, or Black-Waters, are the granite-faced Old Bolshevik Ryzhik, stoic yet gentle Varvara, and Rodion, a young, self-educated worker who is trying to make sense of the world and history. They struggle in the unlikely company of Russian Orthodox Old Believers who are also suffering for their faith. Against unbelievable odds, the young Rodion will escape captivity and find a new life in the wild. Surviving the dark winter night of the soul, he rediscovers the only real, and most radical, form of resistance: hope.
About the Author
Victor Serge (1890–1947) was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich to Russian anti-tsarist exiles, impoverished intellectuals living “by chance” in Brussels. A precocious anarchist firebrand, young Victor was sentenced to five years in a French penitentiary in 1912. Expelled to Spain in 1917, he participated in an anarcho-syndicalist uprising before leaving to join the Revolution in Russia. Detained for more than a year in a French concentration camp, Serge arrived in St. Petersburg early in 1919 and joined the Bolsheviks, serving in the press services of the Communist International. An outspoken critic of Stalin, Serge was expelled from the Party and briefly arrested in 1928. Henceforth an “unperson,” he completed three novels (Men in Prison, Birth of Our Power, and Conquered City) and a history (Year One of the Russian Revolution), all published in Paris. Arrested again in Russia and deported to Central Asia in 1933, he was allowed to leave the USSR in 1936 after international protests by militants and prominent writers like André Gide and Romain Rolland. Using his insider’s knowledge, Serge published a stream of impassioned, documented exposés of Stalin’s Moscow show trials and machinations in Spain, which went largely unheeded. Stateless, penniless, hounded by Stalinist agents, Serge lived in precarious exile in Brussels, Paris, Vichy France, and Mexico City, where he died in 1947. His classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary and his great last novels, Unforgiving Years and The Case of Comrade Tulayev (both available as NYRB Classics), were written “for the desk drawer” and published posthumously.
Richard Greeman has translated and written the introductions for five of Serge’s novels (including Unforgiving Years and Conquered City, both available as NYRB Classics). A veteran socialist and co-founder of the Praxis Center and Victor Serge Library in Moscow, Greeman is the author of the Web site The Invisible International.
Praise For Midnight in the Century (NYRB Classics)…
"Fiction, for Serge, is truth—the truth of self-transcendence, the obligation to give voice to those who are mute or who have been silenced… . The presumptive case for exempting Serge from the oblivion that awaits most heroes of truth lies, finally, in the excellence of his fiction." —Susan Sontag
"Whatever he wrote, including his fiction, was a kind of personal history of the Left, in haste, in bloody ink, on bandages. Like Koestler in Darkness at Noon, Serge seems to be saying that man, the particular, is more important than mankind, the abstraction." —John Leonard, The New York Times
"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 as a political Ishmael, comparable to the lone survivor of the wrecked Pequod." —Stephen Schwartz, The New Criterion
"He was an eyewitness of events of world historical importance, of great hope and even greater tragedy. His political recollections are very important, because they reflect so well the mood of this lost generation. His novels will find readers now because they help grant an understanding of the aftermath of the Russian revolution and its impact on militants and intellectuals, a world of yesterday almost as distant from subsequent generations as the Napoleonic wars…His articles and books speak for themselves, and we would be poorer without them." —Partisan Review
"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
"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 can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system." —Scott McLemee
"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
“There are passages of such beauty, insight, and compassion they take your breath away.” —Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
“Perhaps no political writer better combined a strict attention to history with a command of novelistic technique….[Midnight in the Century] exemplifies what makes Serge so compelling….His books remain relevant — and show exactly why political fiction, when it’s done right, can be as intellectually fulfilling as any work of political philosophy.” —Guy Patrick Cunningham, Los Angeles Review of Books
“One of the great novels by one of the politically honest (and adventurous) souls of the 20th century. Anyone who cares about oppression, power, and the abuses that link the two, should read Midnight in the Century.” —Jonathan Sturgeon, FlavorWire
“Stylishly detailed….This is history at its most immediate and enduring – filtered through the nerve endings of the men and women who lived it.” —Christopher Byrd, Barnes and Noble Review
[Serge’s work is] quite beautiful, and full of moments of mystery and wonder, reveling in sublime incomprehension.” —Helen Stuhr-Rommereim, Full Stop
“Among the many lineaments of Victor Serge’s talent are the yearning fertility of his prose and the undiminished integrity of his vision, a vision both humanistic and immune to deception. His work of witness, much needed now, is a shining reminder that the depths to which the tormentors can sink have some correlation to the heights to which the tormented can rise.” —William Giraldi, The Baffler