The Case of Comrade Tulayevby Victor Serge
One cold Moscow night, Comrade Tulayev, a high government official, is shot dead on the street, and the search for the killer begins. In this panoramic vision of the Soviet Great Terror, the investigation leads all over the world, netting a whole series of suspects whose only connection is their innocence—at least of the crime of which they stand accused. But The Case of Comrade Tulayev, unquestionably the finest work of fiction ever written about the Stalinist purges, is not just a story of a totalitarian state. Marked by the deep humanity and generous spirit of its author, the legendary anarchist and exile Victor Serge, it is also a classic twentieth-century tale of risk, adventure, and unexpected nobility to set beside Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and André Malraux's Man's Fate.
— Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
The brilliance of his novel utterly ineluctable as it sweeps across 1930’s Europe from the gulags to the Kremlin, to Paris and to Barcelona.
— The Times (London)
The Case of Comrade Tulayev is gritty and rough, saturated in the squalor of Moscow life; but it also pulses with lyrical flights that take us up into the stars, which represent for Serge the regenerative, transformative moments the History promises but has yet to deliver. Tulayev is infused with mysticism; it is a work of cosmic longing, as if Serge is turning to the eternity of the universe itself to avoid the utter despair right in front of his face.
— Matthew Price, Bookforum
It is a protest novel no less significant and no more dated than Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. These novels recreate the feel of daily existence years ago, animate the history texts, and give readers an irreplaceable personal perspective. Books like these ensure the past is not forgotten….The quality of life depicted in The Case of Comrade Tulayev showed why the Stalinist monolith could not endure.
— Joe Auciello, Socialist Action
Given the standard of fortitude, and given the contempt Serge always felt for Stalin’s collaborators, a remarkable feature of The Case of Comrade Tulayev is its chiaroscuro….That Serge intended no lenience here we may be sure, but we may likewise be sure that he would never have swallowed the later euphemisms and half-truths of Khrushchev, putting blame for all the enormities of an epoch on the evil of a single individual.
— Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly
Serge can recognize the range of experience and responses that make up the texture of life in even the most nightmarishly repressive system.
— Scott McLemee
Meet the Author
Victor Serge (1890–1947) was born Victor Kibalchich in Brussels in 1890, the son of Russian political exiles. As a young man, he lived in Paris, moving in anarchist circles and enduring five years in prison for his beliefs. In 1919, he went to Russia to support the Bolshevik Revolution. Traveling between Petrograd, Moscow, Berlin, and Vienna, Serge served as the editor of the journal Communist International, but in 1928 his condemnation of Stalin’s growing power led to his expulsion from the Communist Party and imprisonment. Released, Serge turned to writing fiction and history, only to be arrested again in 1933 and deported to Central Asia. International protests from eminent figures such as André Gide succeeded in securing Serge’s freedom, and in 1936 he left Russia for exile in France. There Serge continued to write fiction, while struggling to expose the totalitarian character of the Soviet state; for a while he also aided Trotsky, translating a number of his works. After the German occupation of France, Serge fled to Mexico, where he died in 1947. Along with his most famous work, The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Serge’s many books include Year One of the Russian Revolution, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, From Lenin to Stalin, and the novelsConquered City, Midnight in the Century, Birth of Our Power, Men in Prison, andThe Long Dusk.
Susan Sontag is the author of four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In America, which won the 2000 National Book Award for Fiction; a collection of stories, I, Etcetera; several plays, including Alice in Bedand Lady from the Sea; and seven works of nonfiction, among them Where the Stress Falls and Regarding the Pain of Others. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001, she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work; in 2003, she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
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If you heard the barest outline of the plot, you might think of The Case of Comrade Tulayev as a comedy. An obscure Russian angry at the Stalinist terror murders a high official almost by accident and the response of the regime is so inept, so foolish, that you can't help but marvel at its incompetence. But rapidly it turns out that the author has used this incident to show in one brilliant and distressing chapter after another how the state exploits its own failure to solve the crime to widen the reach of its terrorist apparatus. Each chapter demonstrates that if Stalin's government couldn't solve major crimes it was remarkably inventive at creating them. The result in this completely readable book is an unforgettable portrait of the mechanics of totalitarian terror.