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Sebastian, Mihail

SEBASTIAN, Mihail

Pseudonym for Iosif Hechter. Nationality: Romanian. Born: Braila, 1907. Education: Studied law and philosophy at a Bucharest university. Career: Journalist. Worked for the Romanian Ministry of State. Died: 29 May 1945.

Publication

Collection

Opere, edited by Cornelia Stefanescu. 1994.

Diary

Jurnal: 1935-1944. 1996; translated as Journal: 1935-1944: The Fascist Years, 2000.

Novels

Orasul cu salcîmi. 1935.

De doua mii de ai [For Two Thousand Years]. 1936.

Accidentul [The Accident]. 1968.

Femei [Women]. 1992.

Plays

Teatru (includes Jocul de-a vacanta ; Steaua fara nume ; Ultima ora ). 1946.

Derniere heure, comedie en trois actes. 1954; as Stop News, a Comedy in Three Acts, 1954.

Other

Opere alese, edited by Vicu Mîndra. 1956.

Proza publicistica, edited by Vicu Mîndra (vol. 2 of Opere alese ). 1962.

Intîlniri cu teatrul. 1969.

Eseuri, cronici, memorial. 1972.

*

Critical Studies:

"Excerpts from a Trouble Book: An Episode in Romanian Literature" by Irina Livezeanu, in Cross Currents, 3, 1984, pp. 297-302; "Romania's 1930s Revisited" by Matei Calinescu, in Salmagundi, 97, Winter 1993, pp. 133-51; "The Incompatibilities: Journal, 1935-1944 by the Romanian-Jewish Writer M. Sebastian" by Norman Manea, translated by Patrick Camiller, in New Republic, 218 (16), 20 April 1998, pp. 32-37.

* * *

Born Iosif Hechter in Braila on the Danube in 1907, Mihail Sebastian, a writer and an author of successful plays, was well known in the literary and political circles of Bucharest. Besides his novels and plays, Sebastian left behind a diary that covers the years 1935-44.

Sebastian was a sensitive storyteller who always sided with democracy against dictatorship and aggression, as well as a Romanian Jewish intellectual who struggled to write in a meaningful way and to find an existential sense to his life. He socialized with rich and famous liberal aristocrats, with genuine democrats or reptilian opportunists, with Zionist or Communist Jews, and with actors, novelists, and literary critics. He wrote his novels and plays in Bucharest but also in the not-so-distant Bucegi mountains. He took vacations on the Black Sea and sometimes traveled abroad, especially to France. An assimilated Jew, Sebastian was brutally rejected by the society that he loved. He had a strange destiny: He belonged to a group of gifted young people close to the newspaper Cuvintul. The mentor of these young people was Nae Ionescu, who was described by his contemporaries as inconsistent, without scruples, opportunistic, and cynical. He became the main ideolo-gist of the Iron Guard; Cuvintul ended up as the official newspaper of the same organization and many of Sebastian's friends drifted toward Romanian fascism. Even before becoming a fascist, Ionescu published a viciously anti-Semitic forward to one of Sebastian's books. There is no clear explanation for the acceptance by Sebastian of this forward.

The tragedy of the Romanian intelligentsia in the interwar period was that rather than trying to improve an imperfect political system they chose to throw it overboard, instead linking themselves with totalitarian personalities and political regimes. During the interwar period some of Sebastian's friends, such as Cezar Petrescu, changed their opinions according to last-minute interests, being only crass opportunists. Others, such as Emil Cioran, sincerely embraced xenophobia and anti-Semitism, responding to the "attractive" nationalistic "qualities" of the Iron Guard regime. Very few of Sebastian's friends and acquaintances refused to compromise with the dominant fascist ideology of the war years.

Sebastian understood quickly the planned essence of the anti-Semitism of the Romanian state, which he called a huge anti-Semitic factory. He was exasperated by the fascist fanaticism of the society in which he lived, and he tried often to give a rational explanation that sometimes came close to an excuse for the fascist political engagement of his friends. Nevertheless, it remains puzzling that he continued to socialize with his anti-Semitic fascist friends. This weakness allowed him to remain an intimate witness of the barbarization of the Romanian intelligentsia. After liberation he condemned what he called the "indoctrinated stupidity" of the new emerging Communist regime, but he also agreed to work for its ministry of foreign affairs before being killed in the spring of 1945 in a road accident.

—Radu Ioanid

See the essay on Journal: 1935-1944: The Fascist Years.

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