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 will be 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. [Cover blurb]
I don't always remember the book blurbs I read when I select books from the Tantor Audio catalog.
As a result, when I began listening to For Two Thousand Years I was confused. Without dates, cities, or countries marking the sections, I had trouble following the stream of consciousness writing--I had forgotten that this was Mihail Sebastian's journal. On top of that, add the unfamiliar Romanian names and lack of context clues, and it took me awhile to figure out that when the book opens Sebastian is a law student in Bucharist.
Sebastian waxes philosophical about himself and his own writing; God and Judaism; his beloved country of Romania; women, his peers, his professors, and family; politics, Communism and Marxism; the law and architecture (his second area of study). Below are some of his musings; please keep in mind that I did my best to quote the book accurately.
- When he observes other Jews who are beaten he tells himself "If I cry, I am lost. I don't want to die of shame."
- He has friends who fight for the right to be a Jew. "I'm never going to be a revolutionary. I'm not the tough kind."
- "I belong to a race that can't shut up."
- "One day we may make peace with the anti-semites but when will we make peace with ourselves?"
- Margot is the woman he loved but let go. "My big ethereal questions are put aside by her living, personal meanings."
- He questions the Zionists. "Are Zionists going to work with pick axes an act of heroism or desperation?" "What are you going to do with the indigenous Arabs who have the right to a natural death, rather than an abrupt one by Zionist extremism?" (this sentiment reminded me of Blood Brothers).
- His grandmother dies and he wishes she would have embraced it and died more easily. "We die in despair--our last chance to be at peace and be saved." He wonders if mourning is indulgence.
- He comments on his own journal and sees it as folly and his own desire to feel superior to others.
- "I have never had a conversation with someone without wondering if they know I'm a Jew and if they'd forgive me or not."
- A Zionist friend leaves for Israel and Sebastian muses, "Two thousand years can't be overcome by leaving for somewhere...Only rarely through this history of warfare, victories, and kingdoms, does light pierce the mist. Is it possible to build a new history from such material?"
- He remembers that as a youth he was assigned to a "special regime" for Jews on guard duty. "This made me feel as if Romania was not my Fatherland. That assignment erased two centuries of history." He did not want to sink into despair or martyrdom as he struggled to love that which he was not allowed to love. "I can't cease being a Jew. But I also will never cease to be from the land of the Danube."
According to Wikipedia, Sebastian first published a novel titled, "For a Thousand Years" in 1934. He was hit by a truck and died in 1945. His journal was discovered and published in 1996. As I listened I wondered if he ever imagined that his personal journal would be published and read around the world.
This book is aptly narrated by Simon Vane. You can listen to an audio file here. Leave me a comment by November 17 if you wish to enter this giveaway. It may be the perfect gift for your favorite historian. PLEASE leave your email address if you think I might not have it.