Last Times

Victor Serge


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New York Review of Books
6 April 2021
ISBN: 9781681375144
400 pages

From the publisher

Translated from the French by Ralph Manheim

An NYRB Classics Original

Last Times, Victor Serge’s epic novel of the fall of France, is based—like much of his fiction—on firsthand experience. The author was an eyewitness to the last days of Paris in June 1940 and joined the chaotic mass exodus south to the unoccupied zone on foot with nothing but his manuscripts. He found himself trapped in Marseille under the Vichy government, a persecuted, stateless Russian, and participated in the early French Resistance before escaping on the last ship to the Americas in 1941.

Exiled in Mexico City, Serge poured his recent experience into a fast-moving, gripping novel aimed at an American audience. The book begins in a near-deserted Paris abandoned by the government, the suburbs already noisy with gunfire. Serge’s anti-fascist protagonists join the flood of refugees fleeing south on foot, in cars loaded with household goods, on bikes, pushing carts and prams under the strafing Stukas, and finally make their way to wartime Marseille. Last Times offers a vivid eyewitness account of the city’s criminal underground and no less criminal Vichy authorities, of collaborators and of the growing resistance, of crowds of desperate refugees competing for the last visa and the last berth on the last—hoped-for—ship to the New World.


To read Last Times is to watch an accelerating catastrophe. Watch is the operative word. Serge’s novel suggests a treatment for a social disaster movie. Written in the midst of World War II, it spans a bit more than a year, from the capture of Paris in June 1940 to the German invasion of the Soviet Union the following June, and often evokes a three-hour film epic with an all-star international cast.
—J. Hoberman, New York Times Book Review

In what is (no mean feat) perhaps his bleakest novel, Serge holds a mirror up to French society, and Western democracies in general.
—Marcus Hijkoop, Los Angeles Review of Books

[Victor Serge’s] work has always been a testament to the spirit of liberty, to the individual’s stubborn endurance against the tyrannical systems that seek to crush them. Serge could have easily been lost to history, but his unwillingness to go quietly has left us with a body of work that makes him impossible to forget, and because of this, he has indeed survived.
—Jared Marcel Pollen, Los Angeles Review of Books