It’s Mihail Sebastian’s For Two Thousand years today, a name to which you’re no doubt busy grunting, “Whom?!” Grunt away, as until recently we’d never heard of him either. However, thanks to the brilliant folk at Penguin, for the first time in English we’re able to read Sebastian’s classic. This we heartily recommend, as it’s an excellent book.
The Romanian author (1907 – 1945) was a playwright, essayist, journalist, polemicist, and novelist. A Jewish man, he was subject to increasing anti-Semitism during the 1920s and 1930s, a theme which is covered heavily in For Two Thousand Years (published in 1934).
As it’s somewhat ambiguous on a political front, the author was simultaneously accused of being anti-Semitic and a Zionist by left and right-wingers. Undeterred, he continued writing a diary during the difficult years ahead and he most famous work is now, finally, published in English.
For Two Thousand Years
In many ways this novel is similar to Fernando Pessoa’s the Book of Disquiet in that it’s a novel you can pick up, open at any page, and read. It’s fantastically well written and it simply exudes high intelligence. Behold the following arbitrary paragraph:
"I am discreet, have a critical disposition, a sense of the ridiculous, self-control, and other tragic nonsense of that kind, and posses the supreme folly of self-regard. Yes, indeed, at precisely the moment you hide behind your own penmanship, writing what you think is a confession and a severe internal reckoning, somebody within creeps up and claps you on the back and decorates you with the order of merit, first class. I write here plainly and in good faith that I'm an unfortunate fool and meanwhile a voice secretly consoles me. 'You're a martyr,' it says, 'the hero of your own destiny, the guardian of the purest values of human dignity.'"
Unlike the Book of Disquiet, this is one intrinsically frightening read. Clearly semi-autobiographical, For Two Thousand Years charters the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. As a consequence, a young Jewish student in Romania is alienated from society by hateful bigots who brutally
Filled with youthful hedonism, the student drifts through life arguing with revolutionaries and contemplating his existence, his family, and the situation he finds himself in.
The prose is crisp, clear, culturally rich, and offers detailed insights into life at a time when a very real darkness descended over the world, and the only way to cope was through intelligence and continuing in the face of adversity.
This is exactly what its author did during Europe’s hellish WWII conflict. Sebastian overcame prejudiced friends deserting him, losing his job, World War II, and the Holocaust.
In May 1945, he was appointed a university lecturer in Balzac and was on his way to teach his first lecture when he was accidentally run over and killed by a truck. He was 38.
In the UK, the publishers Penguin remain busy promoting the novel. Hopefully, this push led to decent sales as this is an excellent piece of work which serves as a chilling reminder of how idiotic prejudice is.
When we say Penguin “got behind the book” we well and truly mean it! Brilliantly, the company created a bespoke landing page for the novel to promote it. You can visit the page here: for2000years.penguinclassics.co.uk.
There you’ll find an extended extract where you can learn more about this fascinating author, who’s finally getting some recognition outside of Romania. Bon voyage, go and click the link.