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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Accident

Mihail Sebastian

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To purchase The Accident

Title: The Accident
Author: Mihail Sebastian
Genre: Novel
Written: 1940 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 257 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: The Accident - US
The Accident - UK
The Accident - Canada
The Accident - India
L'accident - France
Der Unfall - Deutschland
El accidente - España
  • Romanian title: Accidentul
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Stephen Henighan

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Our Assessment:

B : decent local period piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 10/3/2004 Edward Kanterian
TLS . 9/9/2011 Ivan Juritz
Wall St. Journal . 18/6/2011 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "The novel bears the scars of the difficult historical circumstances in which it was written. (...) Stephen Henighan's translation follows the novel faithfully in its decline: he has not shied away from the repetitious, romantic vocabulary that clutters its conclusion." - Ivan Juritz, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Accident, translated by Stephen Henighan, would be a marvel of beauty and control under any circumstance; that it was written by a Jew in Romania in 1940 seems miraculous." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Accident is very much a novel of 1930s Romania. A chance encounter -- the accident of the title -- brings Nora and Paul together, and one thing leads to another, as each finds in the other (and the path they take together) something they need at that point. Nora, a teacher, was still sort of seeing another man, but it's Paul whose life has been turned upside down by the woman he's been involved with, Ann, and who needs to get over her in order to get on with his life.
       The novel begins with the chance encounter, and the spontaneous actions that follow leave it unclear at first where this headed. Paul is the mysterious stranger -- but he is also clearly weighed down by something. Or rather, someone. Nora senses that the secret can be found in a single page of his passport:

Nora saw again the blue passport, the photograph, the identifying signs, the visa page, Hegenrath, 23 juillet. Again it seemed to her that in the name of that border crossing, in that forgotten date of July 23, 1934, lay his whole mystery.
       She's not wrong, though the essence of his 'mystery' is a pretty straightforward one: he's hopelessly in love with Ann, but Ann is kind of a tramp. In fact, she's an enormously successful painter -- but, as someone explains to him:
That girl, sir, she's come into the painting world like a siren, like an actress who runs after the director, the ministry, her cousin, the kept mistress, in order to get a role, and she sleeps with this one and she sleeps with that one, with the director, the office manager, even the porter if she has to, but she doesn't stop until she gets to the top.
       Fast-rising, Ann has apparently not stopped yet ..... His failed love has gotten to Paul; he claims he's not unhappy now but admits he's: "weary ... yes ... very weary ...".
       Nora is intrigued by this air of mystery and sadness around him:
He was capable of silences that seemed as though they would never end. How far away was he ? How could she call him back ?
       Rather spontaneously again they decide to go skiing together over the Christmas vacation, a change from urbane Bucharest to the rustic Carpathians -- though, as it turns out, different sorts of decadence can be found in each. On the ski slopes they wind up in the mountain home of Gunther Grodeck , a young man from an important local family who is an outsider (and has quite a bit of romantic fatalism to him too). In case readers didn't get the Trakl-allusion (the dark 'Grodek' is Georg Trakl's most famous poem) Sebastian has the young man recite (well whisper, "as if to himself, as though it were a spell") a verse from another Trakl poem ..... Yes, The Accident is that kind of heavy-handed novel.
       The skiing vacation does them Paul and Nora good, yet their problems are not easily worked through: "Aren't we here together ?" Paul asks, but at that point Nora still finds they are: "Together, yet alone." Finally Paul must face the root of the problem --and conveniently for everyone involved, Ann shows up in the neighborhood, and Paul -- and Nora -- soon see whether he has been able to put her behind him.
       The Accident is in some ways a typical Alpine (well, Carpathian) ski- or nature-novel, the great outdoors an eye-opening change for city-folk who have gotten too used to urban ways: "Nora, do you think skiing can save a person ? Can it change his life ?" Paul asks overeagerly at the end (when all he wants is confirmation that in his case it has). The setting, and the ski-experience that is very different from the modern ones (no lifts, for one), add nicely to the atmosphere, while moody Paul's hopeless love, decadent Ann, and free-spirited but dutiful Nora (who never forgets that she has a teaching job to get back to in early January -- though she does skip a few of her last classes before the winter break ...), and, of course, young Grodeck (and his faithful dog) are very much characters -- but ones whose story is interesting to follow.
       It is all a bit overheated and artificial, but that's also part of the fun, especially in how it presents 1930s Romania. An exaggeratedly but at least fairly inventively romantic story, The Accident isn't a particularly remarkable novel, but it's a solid, interesting period piece, and the comparisons to another Central European author of the time, Márai Sándor, aren't far fetched.
       Even if it is little more than a curiosity, it's nice to see the novel has been resurrected.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2011

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The Accident: Reviews: Other books by Mihail Sebastian under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Mihail Sebastian (born Iosif Hechter) lived 1907 to 1945.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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