Apart from writing one of my favorite novels, The Accident, Mihail Sebastian is maybe best known for his plays, such as “Steaua fără nume” (“The star without a name”, which is also very dear to me because I played a part in a reinterpretation of it, in high school) and for his Journal – which I have yet to read, in which he depicts the persecutions he endured as a Jew in Romania’s increasingly antisemitic sociopolitical landscape.
I was born in Romania, and I am Jewish. That makes me a Jew, and a Romanian. For me to go around and join conferences demanding that my identity as a Jewish Romanian be taken seriously would be as crazy as the Lime Trees on the island where I was born to form a conference demanding their rights to be Lime Trees. As for anyone who tells me that I’m not a Romanian, the answer is the same: go talk to the trees, and tell them they’re not trees.
“I’ve always believed that the only defeats and victories that matter in life are those you lose or win alone, against yourself.”
Mihail Sebastian – For two thousand years
As stated very accurately by John Banville in an exhaustive article, Mihail Sebastian was the pen name of Iosif Mendel Hechter. He was born to a Jewish family in Brăila, a port on the Danube, in 1907. He studied law in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, which at the time liked to think of itself as a second Paris, and then in Paris itself, before returning to Bucharest and becoming a typical figure of the times, an intellectual flaneur, a habitué of literary cafés, a chaser after girls. He worked intermittently as a lawyer while also writing essays, novels, poems, and plays, and moving in a milieu that included writers and thinkers such as Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Eugène Ionesco, and Camil Petrescu.
But as a Jew, Sebastian came to be regarded as an outsider within the group, even by his friends.
His life is quite fascinating (and shocking) and his literary style very enjoyable. A true artist and a sensitive spirit, he was also a great lover of classical music, as well as of life in general. Unfortunately, Mihail Sebastian died tragically after being hit by a truck on May 29, 1945, just as War World II was ending.
“You will face yourself again in a moment of terror and will learn once again that old lesson you keep forgetting: that you can escape from anywhere, but you cannot flee your own self.”
“For too long I have played on the stage of lucidity, and I have lost. Now I need to accustom my eyes to the falling darkness. I need to contemplate the natural slumber of all things, which the light calls forth, yet also causes to tire. Life must begin in darkness. Its powers of germination lie hidden. Every day has its night, every light has its shadow.
I cannot be asked to accept these shadows gladly. It is enough that I accept them.”
“Sometimes symbolism is too obvious.”