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For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian
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For Two Thousand Years

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For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian
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Sep 12, 2017 | ISBN 9781590518762

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  • Sep 12, 2017 | ISBN 9781590518762

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“[T]his scintillating novel—a fiery coming-of-age story introduced to the combustible material of extremist politics—which wrestles with the question of how one should live in the face of hatred…reveals a young, idealistic man grasping for freedom from the external oppression of anti-Semitism but also, paradoxically, from the beholdens of his Jewish heritage. The diary entries (in a vigorous translation by Philip Ó Ceallaigh ) follow the unnamed narrator from his time at university, when right-wing thugs beat up Jewish students when they attended classes, to his maturation as an emerging architect. The slender plot serves mostly as a vessel for passionate arguments…The narrator records his interactions with budding fascists, nihilists, Marxists and Zionists. But his fiercest debates are with himself. He yearns to stand apart from the collective suffering of Romanian Jews and cultivate his individuality…Many of Sebastian’s characters are modeled on intellectuals who would have been well known to his Romanian readers but now require recondite web searching to identify. But the passage of time has also added gravity to a story that foreshadows yet cannot quite envision the genocide on the horizon. The narrator maintains friendships with his colleagues and mentors, trying to stoically transcend the manias of the age, and is heartbroken anew as, one by one, each succumbs to the “eternal phenomenon” of anti-Semitism. ‘This will pass too,’ a Jewish acquaintance tells him, determined to be hopeful. But we know that it did not.” WALL STREET JOURNAL
“… remarkably pertinent to our time and place… elegiac and lyrical…What’s chilling about ‘For Two Thousand Years,’ in this sensitive translation by Philip O Ceallaigh, is how its oppressive atmosphere foreshadows the rise of Romanian authoritarianism and the destruction of Romanian Jewry, even though it was published before the fascists came to power….I can’t help thinking that Mihail Sebastian is sending us a message across the generations.” —NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW
“Sebastian, born in 1907, was a writer deeply immersed in the intellectual life of Romania in the interwar decades, and his book chillingly foreshadows the rise of authoritarianism in his country.” —NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, EDITORS’ CHOICE
 “[A] fantastic piece of literary steak, dealing with “2000 years” of Romanian Jewish life (and its mirror anti-Semitism), to sink your teeth into… it is extremely well written, shocking in its candor, sexy, funny at times. It is really about the desire of human beings to maintain “normalcy” under the roughest of circumstances….Only a European could have written this book, and that in itself should make it interesting to Americans, especially now in our hard-to-believe Age of Donald Trump. The fatalism of Europe, the sense that we will all “muddle through” in the face of genuine evil—just stinks throughout it.  There is a real lesson here for all of us.” —HUFFINGTON POST
“Beautifully observed and brimming with insight, not a word of which feels even slightly contrived.” —MOMENT MAGAZINE
“Any Jew who is tempted to blithely claim the status of pariah should first be compelled to read For Two Thousand Years, an autobiographical novel by the Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian…Perhaps the most important conclusion one can draw from Sebastian’s book is that pariahdom—in which Sebastian’s narrator sometimes glories, sometimes suffers—is not a moral achievement, but a condition of profound vulnerability. The psychological price it exacts is beautifully documented in For Two Thousand Years, but the physical price is even higher—too high for anyone to agree to pay.” —TABLET
 “For Two Thousand Years is one of the most powerful stories of the rise of fascism to almost never make it into English translation….One of the key strengths of Sebastian’s book lies in his masterful portrayal of the ebb and flow of anti-Semitism and fascism, and of the ease with which people who are friends and colleagues one day can be co-opted by fascist and racist ideas the next….Sebastian has masterfully captured the range of arguments used to express and justify anti-Semitism and illustrates both their circular logic as well as the tenacious self-righteousness that define them. To the modern educated reader they sound ridiculous, yet at the same time eerily resonant of contemporary forms of bigotry, and the arguments that drive them….Its depiction of the many faces of anti-Semitism, from workplace jokes between colleagues to street violence, is breath-taking in its horror yet also masterfully eloquent….Sebastian’s book illustrates important realities of the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism.”
“For Two Thousand Years is a profoundly moving novel… This Romanian work by Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945) provoked a scandal when it was published in 1934 for its unflinching description of anti-Semitic and Zionist themes, and it fell into obscurity for decades. Masterfully translated into English by Philip Ó Ceallaigh… it is a powerful, beautifully written story that compares well with the work of Sebastian’s contemporaries Mircea Eliade and Eugene Ionesco… For Two Thousand Years explores timeless themes of struggle and acceptance with power, grace, and insight.” —FOREWORD REVIEWS
“This novel, published in 1934 and ably translated for the first time into English, traces the path of its protagonist from his university days to a career as an architect, during which he frequently hears the cry ‘Death to the Yids.’ It’s so pervasive, in fact, that he seems inured to it and is shocked to learn by novel’s end that several longtime Romanian colleagues have been anti-Semites all along…Laced throughout with debate regarding the place of the Jewish people and their culture in the world, among other issues, this work sits uneasily between philosophical speculation and narrative fiction. But it is an important historical document—prophetically, the protagonist cries out, ‘Has anybody had a greater need of a fatherland?’” —LIBRARY JOURNAL   
“In For Two Thousand Years, Sebastian gives a vibrant inner life of a man reconciling himself with his historical moment. His account may be fictionalized, but it grows all the darker, all the more portentous as the story passes into the 1930s, on the edge of what today’s readers know is to come for Jews in Romania and across Europe. Sebastian’s words serve as unshakable evidence for Hannah Arendt’s indictment, in Eichmann in Jerusalem, that Romania was ‘the most anti-Semitic country in pre-war Europe. And the questions of identity Sebastian raised have persisted long after the war.” —MUSIC & LITERATURE
“His prose is like something Chekov might have written – the same modesty, candor, and subtleness of observation.” —Arthur Miller
“ARTHUR MILLER said that the Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945) wrote like Chekhov; Philip Roth that Sebastian’s Journal 1935-1944 deserves to be on the same shelf as The Diary of Anne Frank and have just as huge a readership. Coming fresh from a reading of his 1934 novel, For Two Thousand Years, now available in English for the first time, I agree. The work is quietly eloquent as literature and illuminating as social history. Unfortunately, it was eclipsed by a devastation that it anticipated, predicted even, yet still could not imagine. The novel is both light and heavy, light writing and a heavy content — Jewish mystique, Yiddish anxiety, Romanian stolidity, and antisemitism.” —JEWISH CURRENTS
 “The author has penned a shrewd autobiographical novel about his coming of age during a thriving but fractious decade leading up to World War II…The result is a searing vision of his fraught times—draw near and you may also see our own.” —FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR
More than a fascinating historical document, it is also a coherent and persuasive novel… While [FOR TWO THOUSAND YEARS] recreates the student’s nightlife and love affairs, friendships and betrayals, it is a look at a world that was falling apart. We feel the tension and paranoia that preceded one of the bloodiest periods in the history of the 20th century, and what is so terrifying is that the same book could have been written today. Sebastian refused to compromise his duties as a civilized human being and even during this very dark time, his prose is filled with beauty and grace.” —REVIEWS BY AMOS LASSEN
“In brilliantly charting the psychological effects of anti-Semitism on both its perpetrators and its victims, a newly translated 1934 novel outdoes even such master analysts as Freud and Proust…. this novel and his posthumously published diary are enough in themselves to secure his place as one of Romania’s greatest writers.” —MOSAIC MAGAZINE

 “With expert precision Philip Ó Ceallaigh translated For Two Thousand Years. He has fashioned a work that toggles between voices and modes of speaking. The novel proceeds with a conversational pace, adapting the Romanian into a piece that will neither intimidate nor bore…. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian is a hidden gem in European literature, shining a light on what happened in Romania between the wars. Unfortunately, Sebastian never got to write another novel. He died a victim of an automobile accident in 1946, having survived the Second World War and the Holocaust. That fatal moment robbed the literary world of a unique voice.” —NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS
 “For Two Thousand Years wonderfully captures the sense of prewar Romania in all its sophistication, its beauty, and its horror…I love Sebastian’s courage, his lightness, and his wit.” —John Banville, author of The Sea, Winner of the Man Booker Prize
“Mordant, meditative, knotty, provocative…More than a fascinating historical document, it is a coherent and persuasive novel…Philip Ó Ceallaigh’s translation is highly convincing and sweeps us along with its protagonist’s emotional shifts.” —Toby Lichtig, FINANCIAL TIMES
“For Two Thousand Years gives us the sense of prewar Romania in all its sophistication and a look at a true man of courage. Sebastian explores ‘alienation and self-loathing, the need for belonging, and the cultural assimilation in the nation state.’ He refused to compromise himself as a civilized human being in the darkest period of human history.” —Amos Lassen, REVIEWS BY AMOS LASSEN
“Eerily prophetic…a brilliant translation of a most unusual novel.” —Eileen Battersby, IRISH TIMES
“One of the most unusual, seductive, and beautiful books I’ve read in years. It has lightness of touch coupled with astonishing range…Like any classic of a type we’ve not seen before, it is a book which needs to be read and reread and which, over years, will become a reliable friend for life.” —John Self, JEWISH QUARTERLY

“O’Ceallaigh’s eloquent translation of Sebastian’s second beautiful novel, a harrowing book of truths about life in anti-Semitic Romania, brings this 1934 classic to an English-language audience. The narrator is a university student who must endure daily beatings because he is Jewish. Even before Hitler initiated the slaughter of European Jews, Romania had begun murdering 300,000 of its own people. It is a dreamer’s lamentation, yet not without humour. The tragic irony is that having survived the Holocaust, Sebastian was killed by truck in 1945 on his way to give a lecture.”—Eileen Battersby, IRISH TIMES


“Nothing I have read is more affecting than Mihail Sebastian’s magnificent, haunting 1934 novel, For Two Thousand Years.” —Philippe Sands, GUARDIAN BOOKS OF THE YEAR

“For Two Thousand Years is a complex, unsettling, often rebarbative roman-à-clef that confronts the incendiary nature of political ideas in interwar Europe. . . in its disturbing, existential exploration of alienation and self-loathing, in the way it depicts that tension between our insatiable amour propre and the need for belonging, and its concern with cultural assimilation in the nation state, For Two Thousand Years is a work that also speaks to our own discontents right now.” —NEW STATESMAN

“[A] powerful and prescient novel which throws light on darkness and disturbs as it entrances.”
—Malcolm Forbes, HERALD SCOTLAND

“A joy to read, from the bleakest, most cynical of the early passages, to the longer, more hopeful pieces later in the novel.” —Tony Malone, TONY’S READING LIST

“This is a remarkable, closely autobiographical book that begins and ends in antisemitism from 1923 until the early 30s. Hailed as a seminal novel that charts the rise of fascism, for this reader the novel is shocking in its portrayal of the national acceptance of antisemitism which is captured in raw moments, casual encounters and even from close friends…. The narrator is an astute observer and chronicler of human nature, and his descriptions breathe life into characters.” —HIS FUTILE PREOCCUPATIONS

[A] sparkling translation…. The book is exceptional: brilliant, subtle, complex, and beautiful, a modernist masterpiece. In addition to being deeply philosophical, however, For Two Thousand Years is also ravishingly poetic. The brilliance of the book is to combine these modes. Even when the narrator is merely admiring his surroundings he always injects a thought-provoking note. ” —OPEN LETTERS MONTHLY

Philip Ó Ceallaigh’s fluid translation of the novel comes to us at the right moment…. Sebastian’s nuanced novel does not simply decry Romanian history as another, inevitable episode in a 2,000-year-old cycle of anti-Semitic violence. The strength and timeliness of this novel lie in the diarist’s grappling with how to respond as an individual to what we now call hate speech and to violence on the university campus…. Throughout the novel, Sebastian sketches evocative portraits of characters…. excellent translation. The English text reads fluently, and the translator has pleasingly left traces of the Romanian in the names of places…. “A book either knocks you down or raises you up. Otherwise, why pay money for it?” Sebastian’s novel does both.” —LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS  

“In the tense buildup to World War II, a Romanian Jewish student finds himself stranded within the dialogue of the interwar period, isolated from his Jewish classmates and under siege by rampant anti-Semitism. Written as this young man’s journal, For Two Thousand Years intimately captures the anxiety of the period with level, modest writing” —WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

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