Arts & Entertainment

Victor Serge’s epic novel of the fall of France

“[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.”
—Jared Marcel Pollen, Los Angeles Review of Books


Victor Serge

Translated by Ralph Manheim
Edited and with an introduction by Richard Greeman

Last Times is based—like much of Victor Serge’s 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


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