Midnight in the Century: The Eternal Heretic Panait Istrati

“Humanity’s well-being only starts to interest me the moment it ceases to be murderous and becomes moral.” – Panait Istrati (1929)

The twentieth century bore witness to some truly extraordinary destinies. For instance, let us think of André Malraux, who left for Asia in the ‘20s in search of the treasures of long-lost empires and the world revolution. Upon his return to France, he became a champion of antifascism and a genius novelist. He fought in Spain on the republicans’ side, was part of the anti-Nazi resistance, and then became a Gaullist, even a minister of culture. An example even closer to home is that of the Romanian-born writer Panait Istrati (1884-1935), another seeker of absolute truths, the ultimate naïve type, according to some (including Ilya Ehrenburg, the professional survivor, who regarded Istrati as an adventure-loving lumpen), a noble spirit, according to others – including us, the authors of this essay.