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books about Maitraye Devi
Bengal Nights: A Novel
University of Chicago Press, 1994
Library of Congress PC839.E38M313 1994 | Dewey Decimal 859.334
Set in 1930s Calcutta, this is a roman à 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.
Translated into French in 1950, Bengal Nights was an immediate critical success. The film, Les Nuits Bengali, appeared in 1987.
It Does Not Die: A Romance
University of Chicago Press, 1994
Library of Congress PK1718.M24244A26 1994 | Dewey Decimal 891.4436
Precocious, a poet, a philosopher's daughter, Maitreyi Devi was sixteen years old in 1930 when Mircea Eliade came to Calcutta to study with her father. More than forty years passed before Devi read Bengal Nights, the novel Eliade had fashioned out of their encounter, only to find small details and phrases, even her given name, bringing back episodes and feelings she had spent decades trying to forget. It Does Not Die is Devi's response. In part a counter to Eliade's fantasies, the book is also a moving account of a first love fraught with cultural tensions, of false starts and lasting regrets.
Proud of her intelligence, Maitreyi Devi's father had provided her with a fine and, for that time, remarkably liberal education — and encouraged his brilliant foreign student, Eliade, to study with her. "We were two good exhibits in his museum," Devi writes. They were also, as it turned out, deeply taken with each other. When their secret romance was discovered, Devi's father banished the young Eliade from their home.
Against a rich backdrop of life in an upper-caste Hindu household, Devi powerfully recreates the confusion of an over-educated child simultaneously confronting sex and the differences, not only between European and Indian cultures, but also between her mother's and father's view of what was right. Amid a tangle of misunderstandings, between a European man and an Indian girl, between student and teacher, husband and wife, father and daughter, she describes a romance unfolding in the face of cultural differences but finally succumbing to cultural constraints. On its own, It Does Not Die is a fascinating story of cultural conflict and thwarted love. Read together with Eliade's Bengal Nights, Devi's "romance" is a powerful study of what happens when the oppositions between innocence and experience, enchantment and disillusion, and cultural difference and colonial arrogance collide.
"In two novels written forty years apart, a man and a woman tell stories of their love. . . . Taken together they provide an unusually touching story of young love unable to prevail against an opposition whose strength was tragically buttressed by the uncertainties of a cultural divide."—Isabel Colegate, New York Times Book Review
"Recreates, with extraordinary vividness, the 16-year-old in love that she had been. . . . Maitreyi is entirely, disarmingly open about her emotions. . . . An impassioned plea for truth."—Anita Desai, New Republic
"Something between a reunion and a duel. Together they detonate the classic bipolarities: East-West, life-art, woman-man."—Richard Eder, New York Newsday
"One good confession deserves another. . . . Both books gracefully trace the authors' doomed love affair and its emotional aftermath."—Nina Mehta, Chicago Tribune