Memoirs of a Revolutionary
Translated by Peter Sedgwick with George Paizis
New York Review of Books, $17.95, 521 pp.
A stanza from Bertolt Brecht’s poem “To Those Born Later” might have served as an epigraph for Victor Serge’s memoir:
I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger reigned there.
I came among men in a time of revolt
And I rebelled with them.
So passed my time
Which had been given me on earth.
Victor Kibalchich (“Serge” was a nom de guerre) was born in 1890 to Russian revolutionary exiles—in Brussels because “my parents, in quest of their daily bread and of good libraries, were commuting between London (the British Museum), Paris, Switzerland, and Belgium.” His upbringing insured that he would be a rebel and outsider from early youth: “On the walls of our humble and makeshift lodgings there were always the portraits of men who had been hanged. The conversations of grown-ups dealt with trials, executions, escapes, and Siberian highways, with great ideas incessantly argued over, and with the latest books about those ideas.” It was a hard life; his eight-year-old brother starved to death....