1. 
My first great experience of hunger dates from a little later, at the age of eleven…. We spent a hard winter at Liège, in a mining district. Below our lodging a café proprietor used to work: Mussels and Chips! exotic odors … He gave us a little credit, but not enough, for my brother and I were never satisfied. His son would steal sugar to trade with us for bits of string, Russian postage stamps, and various odd and ends. I became accustomed to finding exquisite delicacy in the bread we soaked in black coffee (which was well-sugared, thanks to this trade), and it was evidently good enough for me to survive on. 
—Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary


Photo sent in from North Vancouver, Canada.
Do you have a picture of one of our books with coffee or tea? Send it to this address and we’ll post it here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).

    My first great experience of hunger dates from a little later, at the age of eleven…. We spent a hard winter at Liège, in a mining district. Below our lodging a café proprietor used to work: Mussels and Chips! exotic odors … He gave us a little credit, but not enough, for my brother and I were never satisfied. His son would steal sugar to trade with us for bits of string, Russian postage stamps, and various odd and ends. I became accustomed to finding exquisite delicacy in the bread we soaked in black coffee (which was well-sugared, thanks to this trade), and it was evidently good enough for me to survive on.

    —Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary

    Photo sent in from North Vancouver, Canada.

    Do you have a picture of one of our books with coffee or tea? Send it to this address and we’ll post it here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).

  2. The Daphne Awards (for the best books published 50 years ago)

    An award that a classics series can finally stand up tall and participate in!
    Read why Bookslut wants to award a prize for the best book of 1963 here. And they’re accepting nominations.

    Let’s see, what have we got from 1963?

    FICTION
    One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis
    The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes
    The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy (copyright 1963, 1964—but apparently published in ’64)
    The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant
    The Day of the Owl by Leonardo Sciascia*
    Chaos and Night by Henry de Montherlant

    NONFICTION
    Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge*
    Miserable Miracle: Mescaline by Henri Michaux*
    Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists by Rudolph and Margot Wittkover

    KIDS
    Three Ladies Beside the Sea Rhoda Levine, illustrated by Edward Gorey

    *First translated into English in 1963

  3. Fiery Friday

    image

    The fact that quite a few NYRB Classics sport rather “inflammatory” covers recently became a topic of interest around here. We got to wondering if we’re all repressed pyromaniacs. Or if some mad marketing employee here decided that “fire sells.” Not that anyone buys a book for its cover or anything.

    Underneath the sizzling exteriors of each of the above titles, however, is a really great story. Clockwise from the top-left:

    Unforgiving Years, Victor Serge’s harrowing depiction of World War II, told from the streets of Paris, Leningrad, a destroyed city in Germany, and, in the aftermath, Mexico.

    Memed, My Hawk, a novel by Yashar Kemal about a young boy growing up in a desperately poor village in Turkey. He attempts escape, fails, tries again and … you’ll have to read the book.

    Hav, a one-of-a-kind novel in which Jan Morris wields her legendary travel writing skills to bring to life a completely fictional and utterly beautiful city. After reading this book, it’s hard to believe that Hav doesn’t exist in our world.

    Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway. A devastating vision of the African-American Great Migration that follows the fictional Moss brothers’ escape from the rural South, only to find themselves in the inferno of the Northern steel mills. (The cover is, aptly, a photograph of molten steel. Youch.)

    Fiery photo credits/descriptions in the same order: Antony Gormley, Waste Man, 2006; Waves of fire near cattle pens, Chase County, Kansas, 1990 © Larry Schwarm; Hav cover image © Lee Gibbons; Molten steel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania © Nathan Benn/Corbis.

  4. Happy 10th Birthday London Review Bookshop!

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    Our friends at London Review Bookshop compiled a list of their Top Ten Most Popular Fiction Books to commemorate turning ten, and guess what?!  The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (in a lovely edition from Jansson’s UK publisher, Sort Of Books) and The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge top the list.

    Congratulations, London Review Bookshop, and thank you for being such great supporters!

  5. “I can’t help it, I admire you, your malicious idiocies really reach the point of genius!”

    — 

    The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge

    I need to say this to someone. Maybe a sex work abolitionist or a drug war hawk.

    (via marginalutilite)

  6. “D. found a chauffeurs’ bar where he was served a good, unpretentious coffee and two hot croissants, reminding him of that young condemned man whose sole last request was for croissants, which he could not have, because it was too early. “Just my luck!” said the pale young man, and he was right, for in fact the only thing he ever succeeded in was his own death by decapitation…”

    — 

    Victor SergeUnforgiving Years

    Life’s not Yeezy

    (via hardcorefornerds)

  7. The ship that saved Anna Seghers, Victor Serge, and others from the Nazis

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    “The Paul Lemerle is probably going to sail this month. I’ve just been at the Transports Maritimes,” the doctor said.
    “Listen, love,” Marie suddenly said in a light-hearted, clear voice—(she’d probably had three glasses of rosé by then) “if you knew for sure that I would never get a visa, would you leave on the Paul Lemerle?”
    “Yes, my dear,” he said. He hadn’t yet touched his first glass of wine. “This time if I knew that, I would leave.”

    —Anna Seghers, Transit

    In 1940, the collapse of France imminent, Anna Seghers sailed from Marseilles to Martinique aboard the converted cargo ship the Paul Lemerle, with the help of the American Varian Fry.  Fry, a writer working for the recently established Emergency Relief Committee, helped save hundreds of intellectuals, artists, writers, and musicians from the clutches of the advancing Nazis.  Seghers fellow passengers on board the Paul Lemerle included the author and revolutionary Victor Serge, and the famed anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who years later described the scene at the docks:

    "Helmeted gardes-mobiles, with automatic pistols at the ready, severed all contact between passengers and the relatives or friends who had come to see them off.  Good-byes were cut short by a blow or a curse…. it was … like the departure of a convict ship.” (quoted in Villa Air-Bel: World War II, Escape, and a House in Marseille by Rosemary Sullivan)

    In Transit, the ship is repurposed as one of several that the nameless hero of the story does not board.

    image

    A group of refugees aboard the Paul Lemerle, via the U.S. Holocaust Museum, which says of the image: “Among those pictured are: Ernst Rossmann, Karl Heidenreich, Dyno Lowenstein, Katrin Kirschmann, Emil Kirschmann, and Peter Grassmann.

  8. Dear Best Made Co.,
Thank you for putting together this Spring Reading Collection. We’re not sure what Victor Serge would have made of your artisanal ax(e)s, but we’re certain Patrick Leigh Fermor would have looked great in your Chitina Guide Sweater.
Warm regards,NYRB Classics

    Dear Best Made Co.,

    Thank you for putting together this Spring Reading Collection. We’re not sure what Victor Serge would have made of your artisanal ax(e)s, but we’re certain Patrick Leigh Fermor would have looked great in your Chitina Guide Sweater.

    Warm regards,
    NYRB Classics

  9. February is Victor Serge month at the Brecht Forum.

    February is Victor Serge month at the Brecht Forum.

  10. John Berger drawing Tilda Swinton, on top of a copy of Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years. (Apologies if the video isn’t working, it was having problems earlier).

  11. Memoirs of a Revolutionary in The Guardian, again.

    When I first read these memoirs, as a young would-be Soviet historian at the time of their first publication in English, the paragraph that struck me most poignantly and remained imprinted was Serge’s confession that ‘the feeling of having so many dead men at my back, many of them my betters in energy, talent, and historical character, has often overwhelmed me, and that this feeling has been for me the source of a certain courage, if that is the right word for it.’ This remains one of the great lines in the annals of revolutionary memoir. On rereading, however, I found myself equally moved by Serge’s rueful meditations on the uses of human reason. ‘Many times,’ he writes, ‘I have felt myself on the brink of a pessimistic conclusion as to the function of thinking, of intelligence, in society’, even to the point of wondering whether ‘the role of critical intelligence’, which he had exercised so often and at such costs to himself, might not be ‘dangerous, and very nearly useless’. He banishes such thoughts rather lamely with the remark that societies need critical thinking and ‘better times will come’—but then adds, with more conviction, that in any case, the use of the critical faculty is ‘a source of immense satisfactions’ to the thinker. Perhaps, after all, we can regard the life of Victor Serge, perennial critic and dissenter, as, in a certain sense, a happy one.

    —Sheila Fitzpatrick, reviewing Memoirs of a Revolutionary in The Guardian. Fitzpatrick was one of the leading figures of the second generation of “revisionist” historians working on the U.S.S.R. in the 1980s. Her early work focused on the social mobility of the early Soviet era, emphasizing that, though bloody, Stalinist purges enabled educated people from the lower classes to move upward in Soviet society, and therefore fulfilled some of the purposes of a democratic revolution. Serge himself, as Fitzpatrick points out in her review, was both a witness of the intolerance of criticism towards the Soviet regime (and the brutal suppression of it) and a critic of its undemocratic governance, but ultimately continued to believe in the Bolshevik revolution as a necessary movement towards (Serge’s words) “total transformation.”

  12. Victor Serge’s son, Vladimir (or Vlady) Kibalchich grew up to be an accomplished artist. His murals decorate the reading room of the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada in Mexico City. 
Susan Wiseman’s memorial essay on Vlady describes his career and recounts some of his exploits—including that time he peed on Lenin.
(See Vlady’s sketch of his father’s hands here, and also note that our edition of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary includes quite a few of young Vlady’s drawings.)
ismaelfotografo:

Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada on Flickr.

    Victor Serge’s son, Vladimir (or Vlady) Kibalchich grew up to be an accomplished artist. His murals decorate the reading room of the Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada in Mexico City.

    Susan Wiseman’s memorial essay on Vlady describes his career and recounts some of his exploits—including that time he peed on Lenin.

    (See Vlady’s sketch of his father’s hands here, and also note that our edition of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary includes quite a few of young Vlady’s drawings.)

    ismaelfotografo:

    Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada on Flickr.

  13. Victor Serge’s Political Testament

    By Richard Greeman

    Was Victor Serge moving to the right at the time of his death, as some have contended? Richard Greeman of the International Victor Serge Foundation addresses the question on the occasion of the publication of Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary.


    "My Father’s Hands" by Serge’s son, Vladimir Kibalchich

    “What would be Victor Serge’s political position if he were alive today?” During the sixty-odd years since Serge’s untimely death, this question—a priori unanswerable—has been asked (and answered) many times—on occasion, as we shall see, by self-interested politicos and pundits. The consensus among these postmortem prophets is that this hypothetical posthumous Serge would have moved to the right, along with ex-Communists like Arthur Koestler and the so-called “New York intellectuals” around the Partisan Review. It is of course impossible to prove otherwise. Yet the fact remains that throughout the Cold War neither the CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom nor any other conservative anti-Communist group ever attempted to exploit Serge’s writings, which continued to speak far too revolutionary a language and remained largely out of print. Nonetheless, the specter of an undead right-wing Serge continues to haunt the critics, and there are reasons why.

    Read More

  14. Memoirs of a Revolutionary in The Guardian

    Enthusiasm took Serge to revolutionary Soviet Russia, and it was there that he began to notice that Bolshevik tyranny, rather than general incompetence, was going to be the problem (like Orwell, he despaired of the attraction of radical politics to people who refused to eat meat, or salt, or anything but fruit). Memoirs is a document that is essential, above all, as a denouncement of oppression, an eye-witness account, written in heat and at speed, but with the talent of the true writer, of what it was like to be at the heart of the machine – and to stand up to it.

    —from Nicholas Lezard’s review of Memoirs of a Revolutionary in The Guardian. He ends the review by asking, “How it has taken so long to appear is one of those unfathomable mysteries. (Is it because some people can’t comprehend a humane revolutionary?) Anyway, here it is at last, and anyone who cares about justice and freedom of speech should have a copy.” We like that.

  15. “In the beginning was surprise that enthusiasm could exist, that the new faith could be stronger than all else, action more desirable than happiness and ideas more real than old facts; that the world could be more alive than the self.”

    — Victor Serge, Unforgiving Years (via rednotebooks)