Mihail Sebastian translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

For Two Thousand Years

Publication Date: Sep 12, 2017

240 pp


ISBN: 978-1-59051-877-9

Trade Paperback

List Price US $16.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-876-2

Available in English for the first time, Mihail Sebastian’s classic 1934 novel delves into the mind of a Jewish student in Romania during the fraught years preceding World War II.

 This literary masterpiece revives the ideological debates of the interwar period through the journal of a Romanian Jewish student caught between anti-Semitism and Zionism. Although he endures persistent threats just to attend lectures, he feels disconnected from his Jewish peers and questions whether their activism is worth the cost. Spending his days walking the streets and his nights drinking and conversing with revolutionaries, zealots, and libertines, he remains isolated, even from the women he loves. From Bucharest to Paris, he strives to make peace with himself in an increasingly hostile world.

For Two Thousand Years echoes Mihail Sebastian’s struggles as the rise of fascism ended his career and turned his friends and colleagues against him. Born of the violence of relentless anti-Semitism, his searching, self-derisive work captures a defining moment in history and lights the way for generations to come—a prescient, heart-wrenching chronicle of resilience and despair, resistance and acceptance.

Excerpt from For Two Thousand Years

I believe I’ve only ever been afraid of signs and symbols, never of people or things. My childhood was poisoned by the third poplar in the yard of the Church of St Peter, a tall, mysterious tree, its shadow on summer nights falling through the window, over my bed—that black band slashing across my bedcovers—a terrifying presence I could not understand and did not try to.

And yet, I walked bareheaded through the deserted streets of the city when it was occupied by Germans: a white trail in the sky marking the passage of planes, bombs falling all about, even close by, the short dry thumps echoing across the open country.

And yet, with cold, childlike curiosity I calmly observed cartloads of frozen Turks passing by the gates in December, and not even before those pyramids of bodies stacked like logs in a woodpile did the presence of death make me tremble.

And yet, I crossed the Danube in a damaged boat, taking in water, to Lipovan villages, just rolling up my sleeves when it seemed the rotten bottom could no longer hold out. And God knows what a bad swimmer I am.

No, I don’t think I’ve ever been fearful, even though the Greeks from the big garden, who pelted us with stones when they caught us there, shouted “Cowardly Jew!” at me daily from the moment they knew me. I grew up with that shout, spat at me from behind.

I know, though, what horror is. Horror, yes. Little nothings which nobody else noticed loomed before me menacingly and froze me with terror.

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

“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.” —Financial Times

“Eerily prophetic…a brilliant translation of a most unusual novel.” —Irish Times

  1. To what does the “two thousand years” of the title refer?
  1. How does the narrator’s experience of anti-Semitism shape his daily existence? How does it change over the course of his journal entries?
  1. Describe the narrator’s experience of being Jewish in Romania. How does he interact with other Jews?
  1. What are the ideological positions the narrator meets in Sami Winkler, S. T. Haim, and Abraham Sulitzer? Does he align himself with any of them?
  1. Why is the narrator uninterested in emigrating to “a Jewish homeland in Palestine” (p 71)?
  1. The narrator says of Maurice Burets that “Observing gives him far greater pleasure than living does” (p 154). Does this describe the narrator as well? How does the narrator “live”—what is it he ultimately aims to find?
  1. How long has the narrator’s family lived in Romania? When the narrator speaks of his family, does he cast them as Jews or Romanians? What part of Romania is the narrator most tied to?
  1. Why do you think that despite his attraction to Marga Stern and to Marjorie Dunton, the narrator never forms a permanent attachment to any woman?
  1. Why do you think the narrator maintains relationships with Dronțu and Vieru even after he discovers they have anti-Semitic leanings, and is able to leave his last conversation with Vieru “with a truly warm handshake” (p 221)? What effect do you think it has on him to be faced with friends and mentors who say, “I have no patience with Teutons and Jews” (p 174), “Don’t act the Jew. I’m from Oltenia. Don’t speak that Jew-talk with me” (p 210), and “there is a Jewish problem . . . I’d try to eliminate several hundred thousand” (p 214).
  1. What impact does Ghiță Blidaru have on the narrator’s life? Is it a positive or negative one? Do you think, if the novel were to continue, that he would be revealed to be an anti-Semite, like Dronțu and Vieru?
  1. In the penultimate entry (p 228) the narrator writes, “It seems more urgent and effective to me to achieve a harmony in my own life between the Romanian and Jewish parts of my character than to obtain or lose certain civil rights.” Do you agree with him? If so, why? If not, then what is the conclusion you think he should arrive at instead?
  1. Can you describe the narrator’s explanation for and understanding of anti-Semitism, as shown in his final conversation with Vieru (pp 214–221)? List the anti-Semites the narrator meets and interacts with. What is his relationship with them?