Publication Event for the Brilliant New Translation of
Panait Istrati's Masterwork, Kyra Kyralina

Related Event:
THU, June 17, 2010, 7:30 pm
Romanian Consulate
573-577 3rd Avenue (at 38th St.)
New York, NY 10016

Panait Istrati “is a born storyteller, a teller of Oriental tales, and once he launches into a story, no one knows, not even him, if it will last an hour or a thousand and one nights. The Danube and its meanders…” – Romain Rolland, from the preface to ‘Kyra Kyralina’

Panaït Istrati published the book for which he is best known, KYRA KYRALINA, in 1923; it was an immediate sensation in Europe, and Istrati was recognized there as one of the great Modernists, a judgment which holds today. The first volume in a series of volumes indebted to Oriental modes of story-telling, such as found in ‘The Thousand and One Nights,’ ‘Kyra Kyralina’ is a book of great charm and profound insight into the human condition.

Istrati wrote mostly in French, and it was in Paris, deeply fascinated at the time with life in the Orient, that he achieved his first great success. ‘Kyra Kyralina’ was the first in a series known collectively as the Adrien Zograffi accounts or cycle, comparable in ambition, scope and, many would claim, achievement, to Marcel Proust’s ‘À la recherche du temps perdu.’

Although the book was twice translated into English in the 1920s, it never achieved in the United States the great success it enjoyed abroad and has since been largely forgotten. In part, this may have been due to its subject matter, for ‘Kyra Kyralina’ is a set of interlocking narratives concerning a young gay man in a world somewhat more liberal sexually—the late years of the Ottoman Empire—than was the United States at this point.

Brilliantly rendered in contemporary American English, this new version by the eminent translator and critic Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno offers the 21st century American reader the opportunity of a discovery. Join us on June 17 at RCINY to celebrate this new version of KYRA KYRALINA and enter the fabulous and colorful atmosphere of old Danube stories in a performative reading and conversation with the translator and publisher Edward Foster.

The translation and publication of 'Kyra Kyralina' has been supported in part by the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest.

Panait Istrati (1884-1935) was born in the Kingdom of Romania six years after the official recognition of its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Eastern influences continued to permeate the newly established nation throughout the author’s boyhood, particularly in a city as the cosmopolitan Danube port of Brăila, in south-eastern Romania, where he was born. He later traveled extensively in the Middle East and lived in Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, which would play a central role in ‘Kyra Kyralina.’ Deeply influenced by life in the Middle East and its distinctive narrative traditions, he set ‘Kyra Kyralina’ in the 1850s, the waning years of the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz I, when the empire still retained much of its traditional culture.

Istrati stood on the far left politically and was a passionate advocate for the Soviet Union until his travels there in 1929 revealed such a wealth of persecution and oppression that he withdrew all support. Out of this experience he wrote his book, 'The Confession of a Loser,' the first in the succession of disenchantments expressed by intellectuals such as Arthur Koestler, André Gide and George Orwell. Back to Romania in 1930, he flirted, for a while, with the nationalist Iron Guard. Abandoned as a “Troskeyite” by former friends who remained enamored of the Stalinist state, and disillusioned with the Iron Guard, Istrati found himself increasingly alone. Suffering from advanced tuberculosis, Istrati entered a sanatorium in Bucharest, where he died in 1935, a few months short of his fifty-first birthday.

Written in French and Romanian, his books have been translated into more than 30 languages.

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