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Journeys and learning are defining multifarious experiences for the French-Romanian writer Panait Istrati (1884-1935) and his friend, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). During their trip in the USSR in 1928, Marie-Luise Baud-Bovy and Eleni Samios joined them. Recent studies about their voyage have not explored two related volumes: Istrati’s Après seize mois dans l’U.R.S.S. [After 16 months in the USRR] (1929) versus La véritable tragédie de Panaït Istrati authored by Samios (first Spanish edition 1938, French edition 2013). This first comparative analysis presents Istrati and Samios as writers coming from capitalist countries connected by ethnic affiliation (the Greek community) as well as leftist political views.
Istrati and Samios outline the vast and considerable reforms undertaken by the Soviet regime while presenting the opinions of the locals: full commitment, partial support or (un)disclosed resistance. However, Istrati was already an established novelist in France, yet Samios was the partner of a rising author, Kazantzakis. How do such differentiations in terms of gender, age and experience impact their perceptions upon the East-West connections and divide? What are their emotional and intellectual response towards the Soviets where status and power had reconverted values and relationships? Beyond sporadic anecdotic or jocular touches inspired by various events or reactions showing a closer or more distant rapport with the other, be it among the four travellers or the locals, the key concern of both authors is to understand how individuals cope with change. Time, distance and confession are the key variables shaping these two works switching from occasional reportage, briefly spiced up by cultural or historical references, to interior monologues or essayistic fragments. Ideological and cultural clashes complement their naturally-driven confluences and interactions. To this day, these two testimonies stand out as particularly able to inspire reflection and transformation across geographical, social and cultural borders.