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Bengal Nights [Hardcover]

Mircea Eliade , Catherine Spencer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

20 May 1993
Set in 1930s Calcutta, this is the story of Allan, ambitious young French engineer, who arrives in India full of colonial pride and prejudice, and cocooned in European habits and preconceptions. Accepting his Indian employer's hospitality, he meets Maitreyi, the beautiful daughter of the house, who seems to embody all the strangeness and enchantment of his new world. Bewitched by her mystery and power, he falls in love violating every taboo - they begin an affair which cannot transcend the rules of Indian society, which must, inevitably, lead to a tragic conclusion. The novel is based on Eliade's own experiences. "Bengal Nights" is a classic novel about coming of age and about the indestructible differences of culture. Written in 1933 and originally published in Rumanian, it appeared in French in 1950 as "La Nuit Bengali". The film, "Les Nuits Bengali" was made in 1987.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd (20 May 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857540026
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857540024
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,631,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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IFI hesitate in beginning, it is because I still have not managed to remember the exact date of my first meeting with Maitreyi. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part One of a Love Story 22 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback
I have finished this and half way through the riposte of "Maitreyi Devi", who calls Eliade "Mircea Euclid". It seems I could be fashionably scathing of Eliade's colonialism, his right wing politics, his failure to love in a way that was dynamic and supportive - but this book is not about Eliade, it is a fictionalised account of a love that clearly affected him deeply. Yes, there is obvious fantasising in his account - but tell me, who has not fantasised when in love? And yes, he did risk the reputation of his "beloved" when he wrote about their relationship in a way that in a traditionally minded society would be vulgar and damaging. But this is, a work of fiction. It is not claimed to be the truth of their relationship is details, sordid and exposed; but it is a retelling with licence of the emotional turmoil that Eliade went through from his perspective. Is it selfish to fictionalise one's perspective? Not really, as that is what any novelist does all the time. I am writing this defensively, but it seems that Eliade has too much bad press to be fairly judged. As literature therefore, this work needs to be judged. The earlier parts actually have quite a lot of truth about nascent love, how it creeps up on one, effects changes in life, the constant too-ing anf fro-ing of emotions and hopes, fears, doubts and tingling sensations of happiness almost, but never quite fulfilled. In these parts the decriptions ring true and convincing. There is some repetition which detracts in my view from this work as literature, but for the glimpses of the pains and pleasures of burgeoning love, I rate it four stars rather than three. It is also interesting to view it in the light of the response, and I intend to follow up with a brief review once I have finished. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mad, out of control, beautiful 6 Jun 2002
By Wesley Wallace - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is a dream, a message, a powerful explosion of signs, a bloody and mangled corpse left by the passage of some hurricane. In the year of the great success of "Monsoon Wedding" this book more than ever deserves to be read and wept about.
Is this the confession of a repentant Adam, come to weep at the gates of Eden where he so briefly knew bliss? Is it the war story of a proud and Faustian soul who learns European reason after tasting the blood of innocents? Is it the testimony of an emasculated Abelard, who can remember but can no longer experience the passion of his wretched Eloise?
All of these, all of these and much that cannot be justly set forth besides. The style is awkward, at times clumsy, but the life of this book is so vivid, so true, so radiant and bewildering, it reminds me of what many religious teachers have said: that if a man tried to look at God directly, though he would be filled with inexpressible joy, he would also certainly die. In that sense this book is a near-death experience.
It gets off to a shaky start, a bit like a model-T Ford being wound up on a dusty road, but soon you are captured into a whirlwind of passion and ideas, a kind of psychedelia, with levels and reversals of meaning radiating off into space in every direction: as the other reviewers have said -- colonialism, Hinduism and Christianity (and what is Christianity but prophetic Judaism captured and set to music by exiled Indian temple priests), romance, pride, purity, childhood, selfishness, devotion, promise, punishment, renunciation...
Like all Romanian poets, Eliade's motto should be "Lord, grant me only this vision!" His vision burns with the intensity of an acetylene arc. May the reader shield his eyes and turn it to good use.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A minor actor in the drama 8 May 2007
By Shirley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the early 1970's, I was assigned to shepherd visiting scholar Maitreyi Devi around during her visit there to speak on Tagore (Rabi Thakur). She requested that I take her to Mircea Eliade's Mead Theological Seminary office. What happened in Eliade's office was a bit puzzling. But several days later a Bengali faculty member told me about Eliade's book and their earlier love.
I've been telling that story for thirty years. This spring I told it to another Bengali scholar at a cocktail party in Canada. He was stunned. He said, "You are in her book!" I bought the second book, and I am in it. The incident is the last chapter of Devi's "It Does Not Die" - I am the Shirley in the story.
Now I have an even better story to tell.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The XXth century's love story novel 15 Oct 2000
By Dragos Bucurenci - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When this book first appeared they said that, same as every century has its love story novel, the XXth century has "Bengal Nights" (original title: "Maitrey") for its own love story novel. I used to believe that a scientist such as Eliade couldn't write fine literature. After reading "Bengal Nights" I found out I was mistaking. It is an excellent written book that tells an wonderfull story.
2.0 out of 5 stars Read it and Wince 17 July 2014
By Tanya L. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Bengal Nights: A Novel" is not about a great love shared by two individuals from different cultures that ends tragically. It is a thinly disguised account of the author's life when he lived in India that is full of bigotry against Bengali Indians, their religion and societal mores. (It is interesting to note that the author had fascist and anti-Semitic leanings dating back to the 1930's.) The protagonist Alain, a twenty-three year old French engineer, meets Maitreyi the sixteen year old daughter of noted Indian engineer Narenda Sen. Alain is invited to live with Sen and his family so that Alain can learn Bengali and more about their way of life. In return Alain will teach Maitreyi, who is a gifted student and ready to enter college, French.

Alain falls violently in love with Maitreyi and actively goes about trying to seduce her. In the novel Alain and Maitreyi have a carnal relationship. Their attachment is eventually discovered and Alain is forbidden to contact Maitreyi again. From that point on the novel goes into overdrive after Alain is forced by Maitreyi's father to leave the Sen home and his place of work. The florid writing consists of thinly veiled character attacks against Maitreyi's parents who are demonized. Maitreyi goes into an emotional nose dive after she is separated from Alain. I never got the sense that Alain really cared about Maitreyi or even thought about how his actions would impact her if they were discovered.

If you want to read about what happened between the author and Maitreyi Devi read her response the autobiographical novel, "It Does not Die". It is a much more balanced and eloquent account of the events surrounding Eliade and Devi's involvement, her later life and aspects of Bengali society - both good and bad. Ms. Devi was scandalized by Eliade's book since she was identified by name and he profited from the book at her expense. She remembers herself as a naive and utterly inexperienced sixteen year old flattered by the ardent advances of a much older and sophisticated man whose culture was alien to her.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST READ! 8 Dec 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I read this book when I was about sixteen, and it moved me profoundly.BENGAL NIGHTS, which is known in original version as Maitrey recounts the story of two lovers by the name of Alain and Maitrey. Of course that the story has something true, indeed, Eliade fell in love with Dasgupta's daughter Maitrey.Just imagine that the love story narrated in the novel, happened in reality. Also, must be remembered that Eliade was very much influenced by the "balkan supreme sacrifice" when he wrote Bengal Nights. And if you read more of his work, you will see that the same kind of sacrifice is found in "From Primitives to.." or in "The myth of the eternal return". I am talking, of course, the tracico-dacico mythology, where the death is seen not as the ultimate step of existence but as a gate to another world. For example, the dacians were proud to die, and only the most worthy of them was put to death. Now, in the novel you can see the same thing , but the supreme sacrifice is dedicated to love. And here comes the contribution of the indian mythology, where love and sexuality play a very important role. Whereas in the european mythology, the love is concealed by the Christian Church. Well, this is the substratum of the story anyway. And is just an opinion of mine. Nevertheless, add this book to the shopping cart now, and you will experience something that a very few books could make you feel!
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