This is the first Serge book in a series-in-translation to be published here--and it is an often-compelling oddity. Serge, born in 1890 of Russian-political-exile parents in Brussels, was an instrumental Bolshevik, an intellectual force all through Europe, and eventually a higher party member in Russia . . . who was ultimately toppled by his Trotskyism. Thus, Serge came to know the prison-camps firsthand--and when he was finally released (through foreign pressure), he spent the rest of his life as a vigorous anti-Stalinist essayist and novelist. This novel, then, recounts Serge's 1933 Siberian imprisonment--with the Serge persona about evenly distributed between two characters: Kostrov, an ideologically-estranged professor of ""Hist-Mat"" (Historical Materialism); and Rodion, a fellow prisoner. The scenes of interrogation are especially intriguing here--cat-and-mouse affairs, in which Kostrov is as well-known to his inquisitors as they are to him. And, though the novel has far more brain than heart (despite the rather undeveloped appearance of two female characters), it does heat up in the final chapters: a tautly narrated, vivid last-escape-attempt by Rodion. True, many writers--like Eugenia Ginzburg (in Out of the Whirlwind)--have given us courageous, emotional reports from the Siberian prison-camps. But Serge's intimacy with this hell has a particular political sophistication about it; and this fictionalization adds welcome, intellectually conscious layers to the more personally involving testimony of others.