Press release, January 10th, 2019

Day of National Culture

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, in partnership with the “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association and the “Lingua Economica” Association, organised a round table on


Tuesday, January 15th 2019, 2pm

2A Constantin Prezan Boulevard, Bucharest

“To fight in defence of an idea, to fight out of sentiment, out of passion or out of madness, to believe in something so much as to fight for it; that is what life is. Whosoever does not feel a need for the fight is not alive, but merely in a state of vegetation.”

Panait Istrati

To celebrate 2019’s Day of National Culture, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, in partnership with the “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association and the “Lingua Economica” Association proposed an incursion into the seductive Levantine universe of Romanian author Panait Istrati, a review that attempts to go beyond the established scholarly exegesis of his work.

The intrinsically Levantine vocation of this “pilgrim of the heart”, a “tumbleweed” born in the cosmopolitan Danube port of Brăila in 1884, was masterfully captured by his friend Nikos Nantakazis, who mentions Istrati in his novel, “Zorba the Greek”. Panait Istrati - through whose veins flowed Cephalonic blood - left his mother at the age of 22 in order to begin a pilgrimage across the world in earnest. His travels took him through twelve different countries including Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, France, Italy and Switzerland, where he often lived a very precarious lifestyle, just at the edge of subsistence, as he sought to experience all the joys and sorrows of the life of a truly free spirit. During his travels, he was introduced to some of the stories of Halima and to the histories of the East, which would later serve as his inspiration for literary works that were collected under the titles of “Adrian Zografu”, “Kira Kiralina”, “Codin”, “Mikhail” or “In the world of the Mediterranean”, works that were translated into over 30 languages and stand as a testament to the Western fascination with Levantine civilization, immortalised in Istrati’s work in pages brimming with humanism.

In the exotic and unusual milieu of this “wider world”, the trials and tribulations of Istrati’s characters’ – often emblematic of or found at the edges of society: Romanians, Greeks, Turks, Egyptians, Arabs or Jews – are primarily informed by the incessant passions that dominate their lives. Despite his international acclaim and his huge success across the Francophone world, Panait Istrati time and again referred back to his national roots in his works: “No matter how cosmopolitan, no matter how much of a vagabond enamoured with the endless horizon I were from birth, I will always be as you see me: at once Romanian, by my mother, my tongue and my beautiful Brăila; and Greek, by my father and his beloved patrida.”



Screening of the “Panait Istrati – the sentiment of fraternity” documentary, created by Stanca Ciobanu and Geo Tuică

Emil Constantinescu, President of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:

“Understanding the Other”

Whenever I am asked to present the activity of our Institute of Advanced Studies, I feel compelled to speak of the inheritance left to us by the old Levant, and of its vital role in the creation of a new type of relationship between states and between people. We cannot build anything without a dialogue that is based on the understanding of the Other. The works of Panait Istrati are one such lesson, and life itself can be seen as an unfortunate misunderstanding of the Other. Perhaps now, 135 years from the author’s birth, we might begin to understand the duality of this inherently national and intrinsically Levantine writer, Panait Istrati.”

Andreea Grecu – Ciupală, General Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization:

“The characters of Istrati between individual choice and the hand of Fate”

“Panait Istrati speaks of Life, pure and simple. At times, he helps us resonate again with our own convictions, and this on only one condition on his part: that we transcend the limitations and confines of societal norms that, in actuality, erode both our beliefs and our will. Istrati writes of beauty: at times savage, at others, amoral. It is this particular kind of beauty that underpins a new project of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, one dedicated to writers and poets such as Ion Barbu and Mateiu Caragiale, whom we intend to give homage to in 2019 for their literary works that manage to capture the apparent indulgence characteristic of the Sublime Porte and of the East in general. This indulgence itself offers a different perspective: despite our misgivings, life may, indeed, be beautiful. That simply depends on the role one chooses to play in the great dance.”

Mariana Nicolae, Academy of Economic Studies (Bucharest), “Lingua Economica” Association:

“Panait Istrati – for digital natives. A world without limits?”

“Why Panait Istrati? Because he is a fascinating writer that enjoyed tremendous success at an international level; yet, paradoxically, an author that is relatively ignored in his own homeland. Why are his works still successful in France, or in Turkey? Why are they not so in Romania? One of the possible answers is that, in Romania, the younger generations have barely heard of Istrati at all. How come? I will explore various answers to this question at the round table being held at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization.”

Dana Radler, Academy of Economic Studies (Bucharest), “Lingua Economica” Association:

“The Istratian narrative as a visual state within the Oriental space”

Across Istrati’s literary universe, meetings and reunions of characters create a state of communion between them, an immediate sharing of – often painful – personal experiences. The characters’ physiognomies, timbres and rash actions stem from a no-so-distant past, one steeped in Oriental inspiration, that was still within living memory during the author’s childhood; a past in which individual experiences must always be passed on, primarily by means of oral stories, sometimes in writing. The ardent, enticing, endearing – and at times sharp – countenance of his characters complements the impulses and actions of the male characters, which equal the female ones in physicality, force and range of motion. Through its extreme attention to authentic detail, the Istratian narrative closely resembles the screenplay of a cult classic.

Camelia Stănescu Ursuleanu and Mugur Popovici, “Friends of Panait Istrati” Association

“The Levant – Panait Istrati’s journey of initiation”

“One of the great voices of Romanian and European literary consciousness, Panait Istrati fundamentally saw himself as a Romanian writer. Although written in French, his work was conceptualized in Romanian, and always referred to the universality of human experience. It is no wonder that we have chosen to evoke his memory on this, our Day of National Culture. Furthermore, the Levantine dimension of his work, replete with Oriental exoticism, is also essential. In our intervention, we aim to present the audience an accessible yet radically different interpretation of the Levant to that created and imposed by the literature of the Western world.”

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