Originally published: 1933 (This edition published November 2020)
Author: Mihail Sebastian
Genre: Literary Fiction
Page count: 156
Reading dates: 19-22 October 2020
Stefan Valeriu, a young Romanian student, holidays alone in the Alps, where he soon becomes entangled in romantic relationships with three different women who pass through his guesthouse. We follow Stefan after his return to Paris as he reflects on the women in his life, at times playing the lover, and at others observing shrewdly from the periphery.
Women’s four interlinked stories offer nuanced and deeply moving portraits of romantic relationships in all their complexity, from unrequited love and passionate affairs to tepid marriages of convenience. In light, elegant prose, Mihail Sebastian, widely regarded as the greatest Romanian writer of the 20th century, explores longing, otherness, empathy, and regret.
The Penguin European Writers series are a series of forgotten classics by European writers. I’ve read a few of this series of books now, and I really enjoyed this one. The stories were less romantic than I’d anticipated but were compelling. The book is divided into four sections, each from a different point of Stefan’s life. In the first section he meets Renee, Marthe and Odette, 3 very different women at a holiday home in the Alps and it almost feels semi-autobiographical in places. In the second section we witness the marriage of Emilie to a friend of Stefan’s and he is quite unkind about her in his narration. Section three is narrated by Maria in the form of a letter to Stefan while the fourth section, entitled Arabela is about the relationship between Stefan and a cabaret performer.
Translated from Romanian, and with an introduction by John Banville, this was a really enjoyable collection, each section written in quite a different way. Lots of bloggers are shouting about this book. Be sure to check out their posts.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy.
About the author:
Mihail Sebastian was born in Romania in 1907 as Iosef Hecter. He worked as a lawyer and writer until anti-Semitic legislation forced him to abandon his public career. Having survived the war and the Holocaust, he was killed in a road accident early in 1945 as he was crossing the street to teach his first class. His long-lost diary, Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years, was published to great acclaim in the late 1990s.