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Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003) 161
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Mihail Sebastian, Journal (1935-1944): The Fascist Years (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), 672 pp.
Sebastian's diary on the Romania of the late 1930s and early 1940s proves to be one of the most important testimonies of the Jewish tragedy of that period, comparable to Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz or the diary of Anne Frank. Unlike Levi and Frank, who wrote from inside hell, portraying life in the concentration camps or in hiding, Sebastian—already an established man of letters—wrote, with well-honed analytic acuity, from the purgatory of his own room in Bucharest. At the time, he was losing his best Christian friends to fanaticism (Mircea Eliade and E. M. Cioran, among them) and living with the impending danger of deportation and death, questioning the moments of ease that his provisional freedom allowed him. His experience was not unlike that of Victor Klemperer (I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1945), but Sebastian's is undoubtedly a higher and more refined literary achievement.
Norman Manea, a MacArthur Fellow from 1992 to 1997, is writer-in-residence and Francis Flournoy Professor in European Studies and Culture at Bard College. His books in English translation include The Black Envelope, Compulsory Happiness, October, Eight o'Clock, On Clowns, and Variations to a Self-Portrait.