Bengal Nights by Mircea Eliade
A Novel

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Set in 1930s Calcutta, this is a roman á clef of remarkable intimacy. Originally published in Romanian in 1933, this semiautobiographical novel by the world renowned scholar Mircea Eliade details the passionate awakenings of Alain, an ambitious young French engineer flush with colonial pride and prejudice and full of a European fascination with the mysterious subcontinent.

Offered the hospitality of a senior Indian colleague, Alain grasps at the chance to discover the authentic India firsthand. He soon finds himself enchanted by his host's daughter, the lovely and inscrutable Maitreyi, a precocious young poet and former student of Tagore. What follows is a charming, tentative flirtation that soon, against all the proprieties and precepts of Indian society, blossoms into a love affair both impossible and ultimately tragic. This erotic passion plays itself out in Alain's thoughts long after its bitter conclusion. In hindsight he sets down the story, quoting from the diaries of his disordered days, and trying to make sense of the sad affair.

A vibrantly poetic love story, Bengal Nights is also a cruel account of the wreckage left in the wake of a young man's self discovery. At once horrifying and deeply moving, Eliade's story repeats the patterns of European engagement with India even as it exposes and condemns them. Invaluable for the insight it offers into Eliade's life and thought, it is a work of great intellectual and emotional power.

"Bengal Nights is forceful and harshly poignant, written with a great love of India informed by clear-eyed understanding. But do not open it if you prefer to remain unmoved by your reading matter. It is enough to make stones weep." — Literary Review

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was the Sewell L. Avery Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Many of his scholarly works, as well as his two-volume autobiography and four-volume journal, are published by the University of Chicago Press. Translated into French in 1950, Bengal Nights was an immediate critical success. The film, Les Nuits Bengali, appeared in 1987.

About Mircea Eliade

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Born in Bucharest, Rumania, Mircea Eliade studied at the University of Bucharest and, from 1928 to 1932, at the University of Calcutta with Surendranath Dasgupta. After taking his doctorate in 1933 with a dissertation on yoga, he taught at the University of Bucharest and, after the war, at the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1957, Eliade was a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago. He was at the same time a writer of fiction, known and appreciated especially in Western Europe, where several of his novels and volumes of short stories appeared in French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Two Tales of the Occult "to relate some yogic techniques, and particularly yogic folklore, to a series of events narrated in the genre of a mystery story." Both Nights of Serampore and The Secret of Dr. Honigberger evoke the mythical geography and time of India. Mythology, fantasy, and autobiography are skillfully combined in Eliade's tales.
Published January 1, 1993 by Carcanet. 192 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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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.

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Read together with Maitreyi Devi's It Does Not Die (see below) these two moving novels--one written in 1933, the other more than 40 years later in response to the first--by two world-renowned intellectuals retell the story of their real love affair from two widely divergent perspectives.

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