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For Two Thousand Years

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  989 ratings  ·  135 reviews
'Absolutely, definitively alone', a young Jewish student in Romania tries to make sense of a world that has decided he doesn't belong. Spending his days walking the streets and his nights drinking and gambling, meeting revolutionaries, zealots, lovers and libertines, he adjusts his eyes to the darkness that falls over Europe, and threatens to destroy him.

Mihail Sebastian'
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 231 pages
Published February 25th 2016 by Penguin Classics (first published 1934)
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Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: romania
26 September: There is a Goodreads Giveaway for this great Romanian novel here (US only):

For two thousand years is an important book about the interbellum period and the life of a Romanian Jew during a period when the anti-Semitism feelings were growing in intensity and violence. Although I read the novel in Romanian I will write my review in English as the book was published for the first time in English last year and I want to encourage readers to give
Inderjit Sanghera
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
“For Two Thousand Years” is a book which slowly grows on the reader; at first the series of what could loosely be described as vignettes can be jarring, not so much due to the style, but more due to the remorseless adolescent cynicism which pervades them, like Halden Caulfield on crack. However, as the reader becomes accustomed to the slightly broken cadence of Sebastian’s prose style, as the cynicism slowly gives way to profound insights into the nature note just of antisemitism, but of societa ...more
"Despair is a sentiment I have long suppressed, knowing how oppressive it is in a Jewish sensibility. I will not go back to the ghosts I have left behind. Is a 'new dawn' on the way? It surely is. But until then the dusk will be slowly gathering over all I have loved and love still."

Mihail Sebastian, 1934
Meghan Rosenbaum
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This novel was one of those that "spoke" to me before I had even picked it up to examine its contents. Then, while I was reading it, there was some parts that I related to so deeply (specifically in terms of feeling so confined and alone to my own awareness, and thereby alienated from a lack of common understanding). Such a book is further proof of why we read, to feel less alone, to know others have felt as you do in the bare bones of existing.

Our protagonist is a young man who describes his ex
Abbie | ab_reads
I’ve only had two encounters with Romanian fiction, both of which my friend Madalina from Instagram facilitated. The first one was The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller, tr. Michael Hoffman. According to my review from 2018, I enjoyed it but spent a lot of the book confused because my knowledge of Romanian history is non-existent.

Even though since then my knowledge of Romanian history has remained, admittedly, minimal, I enjoyed my second foray into Romanian fiction a lot more.


For my b
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
The title refers to 2000 years of persecution of the Jews.

This was a difficult book for me to follow. It is written like a diary, and like most people the author does not write every day. His impressions change and there are not always connections to or follow up on the previous entries. You glimpse the time from the narrative since the entries are not dated.

Through his experiences, but more through the people he meets, narrator shows this 10+ year period (1923 - 1933?) to be one of growing diss
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was fortunate enough to be able to read this book on a long-haul flight and give it the attention it deserves. The journal of Mihail Sebastian, a Romanian Jew, written between the years 1923 and 1934 is a sobering and stimulating read. Written in the shadow of the rise of fascism across Europe it forces you to confront the meaning of prejudice and nationalism, and the consequences of unchecked discrimination.

The title is taken from the 2000 years of persecution endured by the Jews, repeatedly
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Romania during the 1920s and 30s. Ominous storm clouds are brewing as Europe slides towards war. Romania has it's own fascists and their target is "the other", the Jew, the eternal scapegoat. The narrator of this book is a young Jewish architecture student trying to make a living and a career amidst threats, slaps, kicks and punches. We see him establishing a precarious existence, never quite secure and certain.

I liked the beginning of this book, the way that it conveyed the difficulty of gettin
Sep 12, 2016 rated it liked it
When Mihail is writing about Romania, current events, or his main character's associates the book is interesting. When his main character is in an internal monologue it/he comes off as snivelling and insufferable. I feel a little bad having read this when I haven't read any Stefan Zweig, but a Romanian colleague praised it so I thought I would humour him, and I'm not necessarily sorry that I did.
i don’t know how/if i can rate this book? it was very interesting but obviously very politically charged and some of the things the main character/author said i didn’t agree with. i don’t think i know how to separate opinion from its literary worth? perhaps because the book was written so autobiographically.

what i'm struggling to understand is whether or not that was a good thing? reading about the real life of a jewish person from this time period who was neither zionist nor anti-semite but fli
What makes this stand out from other Holocaust literature? It was published by a Jewish writer in 1934 in Romania, before shit truly hit the fan. That fact alone should be enough to recommend this.

You see how the protagonist tries to keep is cool, even if he can see the awfulness of the writing on the wall. He's repulsed by Zionism and communism, and simply wants to live his life as a Jewish Romanian, even as he sees how that is becoming an impossibility. He encounters casual anti-Semitism, "int
May 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a work of art.

Sebastian excellently, as well as chillingly, charts the anti-semitic waters of Romania in 1930s through the eyes of a Law student. Prescient, complex, and profound. This book asks pertinent questions around 'What is a human being?' and 'What is knowledge?', as well as exposing the oscillating affinity and dislocation one can feel in the only land one has ever known as, and called, 'home', and the people one has called 'friends'. Sebastian draws up beautifully the diff
Surabhi Chatrapathy
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A Romanian author, Mihail Sebastian lived when Nazism was spreading across Europe. His work, For Two Thousand Years is focused around the time when Jews were granted citizenship in Romania. A very turmolious time for the country, Sebastian has accounted for this time in a very unique fashion.

Presented through the protagonist's journal, the book meditates on what it means be a Jew. What it means to 'belong' to a nation, to a religion. With a wide range of characters, each largely different from t
Bonnye Reed
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GNab I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, and Penguin Classics - Other Books in exchange for an honest review. This manuscript was originally published in Romanian in 1934. This 2017 release is the first English language translation of this work.

This is an exceptional story, written as a journal or diary, by a young Romanian Jew as he moves through the late 1920's early 1930's. Sharing these glimpses into the difficult daily life of young Mihail Sebastian as he strugg
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
My wife was born in Romania before migrating to Australia age 8 with intelligent hard-working parents who never really landed on their feet in their new country. I have been to her home town of Timisoara (a university town in the west) and have driven in a Dacia over the broken, pock-marked streets that may never be repaired. Late at night, when the rest of Europe tunes their TVs to smut, the Romanians broadcast high-school calculus classes - something more like 2nd year university mathematics i ...more
Alerk Ablikim
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully melodic, tragic to the core and rational everytime.
I bought this book a few weeks ago in Cluj-Napoca because I wanted to get an acquaintance with Romanian literature. This book shook me. The autobiographical story of a Romanian, Danubian Jew during the anti-semitic interwar period has a Greek level of tragedy. It makes you feel the indifference and the pain without swelling from forced sentimentalities while giving you room to fill the blanks. It offers different perspectives on issu
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-stuff
I spent my time reading this book caught between discomfort and relief. Both stemmed from the same place, which was Mihail Sebastian’s brutal honesty and the intimacy of the narrative. So while there are many great reviews about the historical politics, Sebastian's life and influence, etc., all I can talk about is a highly personal reaction.

So much Jewish literature I’ve read has been us surviving, us resilient, us uncompromising, or on the other end of the spectrum (often when the gentile is th
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's hard to believe that this is the first English translation of Sebastian's 1934 gem of a novel. We meet our hero when he is a student and then jump forward a number of years to see his career as an architect. At the university he deals with anti-Semitism in the form of physical attacks, and a few years later he discovers that even the friends and colleagues he gets on with harbour deeply-rooted anti-Semitic feeling. His reaction is never to fight back or to defend himself, and in the end he ...more
A dark novel comprised of journal entries of a Jewish man in Romania as he suffers the indignities of anti-Semitism while in college and then in his career. The novel moves at a leisurely pace, recounting events and conversations; not a particularly sympathetic hero--he carouses and contemplates his life and future--but journal entries provide an intimate glimpse into his life; issues centered on anti-Semitism but also conversations about Communism and Zionism; set in Romania between WWI and II, ...more
Teo Mechea
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, phylosophy
I don't know what it was about this book, but it is one of the few books that I resonated with on such a deep level.

It has a special sense of soft sensibility about it that does not in any way pose as literal sophistication or presumptuousness. It is just beautiful and painful and human.

If you too are a strange combination of a cynic yet romantic, and your view of humanity is bleak yet you understand it for what it is and have a weird combo of outrage and peace towards it, this is for you.

An ob
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“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”

This is a novel that strikes at the heart of identity and belonging. Set over a number of years just as clouds build over Europe it provides a view into the life of someone who feels pushed to the edge of society by religion. It’s not an easy book to read by it does probably give a non Romanian a view of what it is
Miriam Cihodariu
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, romania
This book is relevant especially to the context of debates regarding the Romanian 'elite' of the inter-war period and their antisemitism. It's sad to notice how even Sebastian's own mentor and professor (Nae Ionescu) turned against him when he tried to speak up for his people.

Besides the political context, the read is enjoyable and interesting in itself, as well.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
His prose is a pleasure to read, better still when he gets to the truth of things.
Welles Bristol
I ran across this loosely autobiographical novel while researching Romania for my sequel to ‘Son of Man’. What a treasure!

Another example besides the quotes you will see in my reading updates: pg 225 ‘The intolerance of the inspired is dreadful. I used to believe it was a Jewish defect, but I was wrong: the defect arises from fervor.’

MS is describing the fascist prelude to WW2 in Romania in particular and Europe in general. As a Jew he has a personal ‘horse in the race’, that is, the fascist tu
Published in 1934, For Two Thousand Years is a Jewish University student trying to come to terms with antisemitism that is growing in Romania. He is walking a tightrope between the Zionists and the Communists in the Jewish community. He has friends on both sides. He also has friends that want to do something about the "Jewish problem". For a book that was written over 80 years ago, it is very relevant today.

The end of the book is particularly moving. The narrator thought of himself as Romanian,
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although apparently fictional, reads like a diary/memoir with very little in the way of dramatic plot. Fascinating/instructive (in more ways than one) insight into an "ordinary" life of the time/place though, and written in a clear yet elegant style. The last 40 pages in particular are superb, containing the bulk of the timeless message/warning, and worth the 4 Stars on their own.
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Difficult to review. There were parts I found intensely irritating, and parts where I wanted to underline multiple passages. Wry, poignant, insightful. Prescient and depressingly topical. The edition would have benefited from footnotes for some of the names/events drawn from real life. I think it's likely I will re-read at some point.
John Funnell
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My grandfather was born in Braila and fled Romania in the late 1930’s. I picked up this book to find out more of the context in which the family once lived.

Regardless to the family tie, this book is a masterpiece!

The writing style takes some getting used to, but becomes addictive. The mundanity of it all is a perfect vehicle for the many profound and philosophical gems.

Full credit to Philip O’Ceallaigh for his excellent translation. The English has not hindered the Romanian spirit!
Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved this novel - which I assume is highly autobiographical - about a young Jewish Romanian making his way in the 1920s and 1930s. First published in 1934, reading it can be sad at times, as you know that WWII and the Holocaust is on its way, and, added to this, there's the knowledge that the author, although he survived the war, died in a road accident in 1945.

The narrator has to deal with rampant antisemitism while a student, and, scarily, he almost seems to accept it - he has an
Jan 21, 2016 rated it liked it
I feel pretty much the same about this novel as I do about Herzog.
I am probably wrong.
Terribly wrong.

I care not.
I still feel the same.

'I envy the supreme insensibility of objects, their extreme indifference.'

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Mihail Sebastian, born Iosif Hechter, was a Romanian playwright, essayist, journalist and novelist.

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