Coming alive with skiing: The Accident is an elegant interwar novel on winter love | Calvert Reads

Coming alive with skiing: The Accident is an elegant interwar novel on winter love | Calvert Reads
Poiana Brașov in 1940. Image: Willy Pragher

3 December 2021

Nora, an energetic young teacher, always jumps off the tram on the go. But on one occasion she finds herself unlucky, falling on the pavement, injuring herself, and briefly losing consciousness. Paul, a young lawyer who happens to be passing by, reluctantly helps her and takes her home. Nora finds out that it is his 30th birthday, and later organises a surprise dinner for him — marking the beginning of a strained romance.

Apathetic, Paul is still obsessed with his ex-girlfriend Ann, a painter who has left him in pursuit of success. But Nora is determined to snap her new friend out of his depression. She takes him out of Bucharest to the mountains in Brașov, where she plans to teach Paul how to ski. The holiday introduces new and mysterious characters, and develops the psychological novel into a tribute to both winter sport and the feeling of aliveness it generates in the midst of immaculate snow.

The Accident also gives invaluable glimpses into the world of interwar Romania, from social norms to economic developments. With its elegant, sparkling-clear prose, tight structure, and memorable characters, the short novel is a page-turner and, perhaps Mihail Sebastian’s best work of fiction. The Accident was originally published in 1940 after Sebastian rewrote the book’s manuscript (he lost the first). It was the Romanian-Jewish author’s first novel to appear in English. It was published by Canadian press Biblioasis, in Stephen Henighan’s translation in 2011, and it has not yet been reissued as part of the recent Penguin Modern Classics series dedicated to the writer.

Born Iosif Hechter in 1907, Sebastian is one of Romanian literature’s greatest writers. A journalist, novelist, essayist, diarist, and playwright, he is particularly known for Journal 1935-1944, a literary masterpiece that gives horrific, real-tome insights into the rise of fascism before and during the Second World War. The diary also gives intimate access into the process of writing and re-writing of The Accident.

Surviving antisemitic terror, Sebastian had his life cut short by a car accident in 1945, giving a symbolic and somewhat prophetic layer of meaning to the title of this novel.

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