All serious writers have at least two dreams. The primal dream is of immediate discovery: at a preposterously early point in your career, Important People will discover your genuine greatness and encourage it along, putting you in place for decades of attention and accolades. Call this the Philip Roth model of literary success. The back-up dream is of posthumous discovery: many years after one has lived, written and died, Important People somehow come across your work, perceive its true worth, and make up for your life of being ignored by introducing you, posthumously, to enthusiastic new generations of readers. Call this the John Kennedy Toole model of literary success. Of course, most successful literary writers live out more modest versions of one or of both of these dreams.
In recent years, however, the posthumous discovery, at least by English-language readers, of books by otherwise little-known international writers such as Robert Bolaño and Irene Némirovsky has been newsworthy for the intense interest and runaway success of their works upon the release of English translations. In both of these instances, the inherent strengths of the works are matched by both their authors’ compelling and tragic stories and by breathless tales of the works’ miraculous uncovering.
If not as prodigious as Bolaño or as emotive and dramatic as Némirovsky, the Jewish-Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian is nevertheless very much deserving of fresh discovery today, which has been made possible by the first-ever publication of his fiction in English — in this case his final novel, The Accident. Long a respected name in European circles, Sebastian, a lawyer, playwright, intellectual and novelist who grimly suffered through a succession of anti-Semitic cruelties and indignities during the Second World War only to be fatally hit by a truck after the war ended, enjoyed a flurry of English-language attention about a decade ago with the translation of his war-era diary,Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years (which won rare praise from Philip Roth, incidentally, among many others). One hopes this new book, whose lyricism and depth of feeling have been made wonderfully apparent thanks to Stephen Henighan’s elegant translation, will only expand his English readership.For the rest of the review, please go here.