BENGAL NIGHTS by Mircea Eliade


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 Eliade (19071986), a major figure in the scholarly study of world religions, tells his version of younger days and of what his ``research'' in India was really all about. This is the roman Ö clef about a torrid young love blown apart by cultural and colonial chasms in response to which, years later, Maitreyi Devi wrote It Does Not Die (see above). Alain, Eliade's persona in the story, comes to take up residence with an Indian family who have a sublime, mysteriously beautiful daughter, Maitreyi. Though the blossoming young woman has read widely in English, American, and Indian literature, Alain sees in her and her sister a certain savage Otherness that intrigues him. As the young man and the teenager spend more and more time together, they are drawn together and end up, of course, spending passionate nights behind closed doors. As Alain discovers that even the recently virginal Maitreyi knows the sexual secrets of the East, the two are tortured by a foreknowledge that their affair will be discovered by the teen's modernizing, but still traditional, Hindu family. After the younger sister blabs and the father sends Alain away, Maitreyi becomes a victim of her father's physical wrath. Tormented and grandiose (``I suffered ten times more than she at the idea of the punishments she would suffer''), Alain retreats to the Himalayas to tell fellow seekers of Indian truth that they are merely romantics who, unlike him, don't know the real story behind the mysteries of the East. In the end, Alain seems at most to have found that his fantasies don't hold up to concrete experience rather than to have come to any authentic understanding of India. A typical colonial tale of adventure and conquest, with too many fantastic edges to come across as being about actual human beings.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-226-20418-9
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1994