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Think Things Are Tough Today?

If you think it’s tough being a novelist in the 21st century, maybe you should take a look at the past. Though it is true the competition in years gone by was a lot less, writers still had to persevere many difficulties in order to get the story out. This is not only true for war corespondents and adventurers, but can also be applied to writers, who railed against commonplace political thought or social norms. Of course, today’s modern and rapidly changing world supplies its own set of challenges, but nonetheless a look at literary history can be most revealing and informative.

Just this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal shined their light on one such Russian writer (and dissident), who during his lifetime, wrote seven novels and many other books about the political turmoil that engulfed Russia in the early part of the 20th century.  Victor Lvovich Kibalchich was born in Brussels in 1890. His father was an exiled Russian dissident, while his mother was from Poland. Known today by his pen name, Victor Serge, he left home for Paris, while still in his teens. There, he worked as editor, printer and writer until he was jailed by French authorities, for supporting anarchist causes. This jail stint consisted of two years in solitary confinement and during the course of his life, Serge claims to have spent 10 years in captivity.

After release from his first prison term, the young writer journeyed to Barcelona and again got involved in anarchist causes. Then, in 1919 he visited Russia for the first time and again took up with the anti-government crusade, this time as a writer and translator. Soon, Serge relocated to Berlin, where he spent ten years promoting  the new communist revolution. This involvement ended in 1929, when Victor criticized Stalin. Serge then fled to France, where eventually he was imprisoned for a second time. At the outbreak of WWII Victor Serge fled to Mexico, but his life there was one of great economic hardship. In 1947, Serge died after having a heart attack, while riding in a cab.

Modern Day View of the Kremblin, photo by Dmitry Azovtsev

Modern Day View of the Kremblin, photo by Dmitry Azovtsev

Overall Serge wrote seven novels (one was published posthumously) along with a memoir, many articles and non-fiction pieces. The last seven years of his life, when he lived in Mexico is generally regarded as his most productive writing period.  Recently, three of his novels, “The Conqueror”, “The Case of Comrade Tulayev” and “The Unforgiving Years” have been released by the New York Review of Books”.

What makes Serge’s work so important today, is that, after having been a former revolutionary and political writer for many years, he is able to look past his own experience and cast a jaundiced view on the triumph of  revolution and the search for utopia. Furthermore as a person, who was often imprisoned for his anarchist leanings, this cynical outlook helps create a writer that can be appreciated by residents of the 21st century. Perhaps, this explains why contemporary readers and writers might take interest in the writings of the former Russian revolutionary.

Peace Demonstration in Petrograd, Russia 1917, sourced from the The Russian Bolshevik revolution

Peace Demonstration in Petrograd, Russia 1917, sourced from the The Russian Bolshevik revolution


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