Monday, September 12, 2011

Tne Quarterly Conversation Reviews The Accident

Over at The Quarterly Conversation, David Auerbach offers an in-depth and thoughtful consideration of the latest title in the Biblioasis International Translation Series, Mihail Sebastian's The Accident:

The Accident arrives as something of an appendix to the massiveJournal of Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945), a record of his life as a Romanian Jewish writer from 1935 to 1944. Though Sebastian is known in Romania for his plays and, to a lesser extent, his novels, to my knowledge nothing of his appeared in English until his Journal was published in 2000, chronicling the horrors and fears of life in Romania during World War II. The Accident is his first translated work of fiction.

Next to the immediacy of the Journal, The Accident initially disappoints. The novel begins promisingly with an evocative scene in which the intense, quixotic Nora falls while exiting a tram and is helped up by the downtrodden intellectual Paul. They tentatively embark on a rushed affair driven by Nora’s fixation on Paul, which frightens and liberates them. But the novel then loses its way in a flashback chronicling Paul’s earlier involvement with Ann, a dreary artist. Ann clearly represents the faux-bohemian life that has ensnared Paul, but both she and Paul remain too diffuse for this section to take hold as a picture of the limits of Paul’s life. Paul’s criticism of Ann’s paintings telegraphs the problem with their entire milieu: “There’s something gesticulating in your paintings. They’re too hearty, too talkative, too familiar at the first glance.” Ann replies: “I am talkative, I am frivolous.”

The greater import of The Accident reveals itself only against the background of Sebastian’s Journal, which described in some detail his writing of the novel. But the greater context is crucial as well. The Journal was not published until 1996 (it was translated into in English in 2000), when its portrayal of Romanian complicity in the Holocaust caused controversy. Over 300,000 Romanian Jews died during World War II, a large percentage by death squads set up by Romania’s own aggressively anti-Semitic government. Sebastian was fortunate to live in Bucharest, which was spared the worst of Romania’s policies, but he witnessed the virulent anti-Semitism and deportations and heard firsthand accounts of the government’s massacres carried out on the orders of Prime Minister Ion Antonescu. Sebastian sensitively, painfully chronicled details of the Holocaust as it was happening that many would not know until after the war. Sebastian survived the war, only to be killed in an auto accident in 1945.

To read the full review, please go here.

1 comment:

kaney said...

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