SOON AFTER leaving Romania in the late 1940s, Paul Celan wrote to a friend of the “too short season which was ours…” It is a good epitaph for the all too brief explosion of artistic and literary talent in Romania in the first half of the 20th century, set against a darkening background of rising anti-Semitism, invasion and dictatorship.

There were two generations. The first were born in the years before the First World War and included Tristan Tzara (né Sami Rosenstein), the father of Dadaism, the Yiddish poet, Itzik Manger, the screenwriter, Emeric Pressburger (born in Hungary but briefly a Romanian citizen in the 1920s), Mircea Eliade, Ionesco, E.M. Cioran and Saul Steinberg. None of them remained in Romania by the end of the Second World War.

The second generation were born between the wars and included Celan, Elie Wiesel, Aharon Appelfeld and Norman Manea. They were formed by three experiences: the rise of Romanian anti-Semitism in the 1930s, the Holocaust and exile.

more from a review of Norman Manea’s memoirs in Salmagundi here.