Sunday, April 17, 2016

For Two Thousand Years.

For Two Thousand Years is a poignant novel, one that has been oddly misunderstood. Or rather, one that has changed with time. 15 years ago, when Mihail Sebastian's Journal (Part One) was published it was described by The new York Times as tedious and then compelling. A similar issue occurs with the 1934 novel, until it is realised that the style is very much part of the novel's concern. Gradually, the novel develops from fragmented, aesthetic journal into fully narrated novel, the depth and range of the "I" narrating the novel growing richer and deeper with experience.

Recent reviews of For Two Thousand Years have concentrated on the contentious aspects of the real world of politics-- was Sebastian a Fascist sympathiser because he portrayed Nae Ionescu favouraby as Ghita Blidaru and was his novel an attack on Judaism? Some critics have faulted the novel for its Zionism and some for its anti-Semitisim. All of these strange views side-step the obvious: this is a novel in which various voices speak and it is inept to extract certain voices in order that political stand-points might be forced into the fiction.

For Two Thousand Years, though written a decade before Sartre pronounced Existentialism, speaks very much in tones that would become the intellectual signatures of that philosophy. The questioning of Jewishness is made from a position of isolation and aloneness:

The voluptuousness of being alone in the world that believes it owns you. It's not pride. Not even shyness. It's a natural, simple and unforced sense of being left to yourself.
(FTTY, p.13).

The separating of the individual from traditional beliefs is a search for self:

You will face yourself again in a moment of terror can escape from anywhere, but you cannot flee your own self.
(FTTY, p.2150).

This novel is far from being the racist novel that some have seen: it is rather one of the most thoughtful investigations of racism in any modern novel. Through the novel, a reader experiences the development of an exposed young man as he attempts to build a foundation (as an architect) for his own life, realising that people build to move on and build again. The racism shown towards Jewish students in Romania is described with searing intelligence.

Undoubtedly, this is a novel of ideas, but this is balanced with finely crafted human portraits-- the narrator's ageing family-- the dangerous S.T.Haim-- and the wonderful Abraham Sulitzer, lover of beautiful books. 

For Two Thousand Years, in its recent translation into English by Philip O Ceealigh, is a fascinating read, dark, melancholic, witty and perceptive.

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