Books

A Novelist Chronicles the Panic of War While Living Through It

Franz Kafka speaks for us all but there may be no other European writer who experienced the tumultuous first half of the 20th century more profoundly than Victor Serge (1890-1947).

A man of action and letters, the author of seven works of fiction plus two confiscated by the Soviet police, a history, a memoir and a recently published journal that is the equal of any novel, Serge was also an anarchist agitator, a participant in two revolutions (Barcelona in 1917 and Russia in 1919), a Bolshevik, a Comintern agent, a radical journalist and pamphleteer (defending Trotsky, attacking Stalin), a political prisoner, a cause célèbre and a stateless fugitive.

Serge was born in one exile, as the child of Russian dissidents who sought refuge in Belgium, and died in another, having escaped to Mexico from German-occupied France. His life is the stuff of novels, including his own.

LAST TIMES (New York Review Books, 390 pp., paper, $19.95), Serge’s penultimate work of fiction, was written in Mexico in the early 1940s while the nearly penniless writer was taking in pre-Columbian monuments, consorting with refugee Surrealists, dodging Stalinist hit men and, apparently, wondering how best to write a popular novel. Serge’s last, most modernist fiction, “Unforgiving Years,” can serve as a final testament. “Last Times” is something else. According to Richard Greeman, Serge’s longtime critical champion and frequent English-language translator, the author’s American friends, including the Partisan Review editor Dwight Macdonald, were frustrated in their attempts to get his earlier books published in the United States, hence his attempt to write something more commercial.

Translated by Ralph Manheim and released in the United States as “The Long Dusk” in 1946, “Last Times” would be the lone Serge novel to have an American edition in his lifetime. (His best-known work, “The Case of Comrade Tulayev,” highly regarded for its evocation of the Stalinist show trials, was published in English in 1950.) “Last Times” opens with a long, evocative portrait of the Marais, then a working-class, immigrant district in Paris, frozen in the searchlight of history. Denial gives way to mounting panic as a trickle of French deserters and then German troops enter the city; after the Fall, the book kicks into an exciting, mordant rondo of arrests, denunciations, assassinations and executions, as experienced by a large, varied cast of talkative characters. Although not all of these characters are authorial mouthpieces, “Last Times” begins with a laconic bit of personal wisdom: “Everything doesn’t collapse all at once.”

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

In this week’s roundup, Salman Rushdie ponders his literary work and his life, a historian revisits the Mexican drug trade and a Belgian artist vigorously renders her life in charcoal and ink in a touching graphic memoir.

Here are six new paperbacks we recommend →

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

LANGUAGES OF TRUTH: Essays 2003-2020, by Salman Rushdie.

Rushdie’s collection gathers nearly two decades of writings on literature and life, including a defense of the (often criticized) magical elements of his novels, remembrances of friends such as Carrie Fisher and Christopher Hitchens, and his experience contracting Covid-19 in 2020.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

ALL THE FREQUENT TROUBLES OF OUR DAYS: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner.

Donner’s biography of Mildred Harnack, who was executed by the Nazis in 1943, uses archives, interviews, diaries and other sources to present a textured account of her life as a resister.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

CHOUETTE, by Claire Oshetsky.

This debut novel tells the story of a professional cellist in Sacramento who has an affair with an owl and gives birth to a humanoid owl-baby, forcing her to grapple with the dual responsibilities of mother and artist while staving off pressure to make her daughter conform to societal expectations.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

PRETENDING IS LYING, by Dominique Goblet. Translated by Sophie Yanow.

Goblet, a Belgian painter and sculptor, employs charcoal, pencil, ink and splotches of oil to render layered memories of trauma, pleasure and dark humor in this graphic memoir. Our reviewer, Sheila Heti, called it “tender, affecting and complete.”

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

THE DOPE: The Real History of the Mexican Drug Trade, by Benjamin T. Smith.

Smith’s sweeping history of the drug trade opens with the 1908 arrest of a marijuana wholesaler in Mexico City and chronicles the violence, corruption and greed on both sides of the border that helped fuel the industry’s rise.

6 New Paperbacks to Read This Week

Miguel Salazar📚 Reading in Boston

OUT, by Natsuo Kirino. Translated by Stephen B. Snyder.

This reissued 1997 Japanese crime novel follows a woman who, after being fired from her last job for demanding equal rights with male coworkers, starts working nights at a boxed lunch factory, where she becomes an accomplice to the murder of a colleague’s abusive husband.

Published on August 19.

Read more books news:



Source: Read Full Article