Review: Diary of a Short-sighted Adolescent by Mircea Eliade

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Istros Books.

My Review:
Short Sighted AdolescentAs a seventeen-year old adolescent living in the capitol of Romania in the twentieth century, Eliade faces the typical struggles of every teenage boy.  Eliade records his thoughts in his diaries with the hopes that he will eventually turn his writings into a novel.  When the entries in this diary begin, he is spending most of his time attending school at the lycee, hanging around with his friends and reading voraciously in his bedroom attic.  He is trying to figure out what the plot of his novel will be and decides he wants to have a hero as the center character of his novel.  He introduces us to his friends, especially Robert and Dinu, whom he contemplates basing the novel of his hero on.

Eliade also wants to include some sort of a romantic relationship in his novel but his lack of experience with girls frustrates him.  He asks a female cousin for advise and uses his imagination to dream about possibilities of a romantic plot line in his book.  Eliade believes that he is ugly and awkward and he often dwells on his lack of self-esteem throughout his diary.  His ignorance of the opposite sex, as evidenced by a few hilarious and awkward episodes that are described in his diary,  further increase his insecurity.

The struggles Eliade encounters at the lycee are, in my experience as a teacher, fairly typical of a teenage boy.  He would rather be doing a million other things than attending classes and he is easily distracted by his friends and his favorite books.  Eliade’s most dreaded classes are math and German.  He tells us the story of a humiliating experience in which he is called by the math teacher to solve a homework problem on the blackboard.  Eliade didn’t even attempt the homework and has no idea what he is doing.  When he can’t manage to copy the problem correctly the teacher becomes exasperated with him and makes he retake his seat.  He encounters similar stressful episodes in his German classes.  Despite failing grades and disappointed teachers, Eliade is never motivated to be more studious with his school work.

Eliade’s procrastination is a common theme throughout his diaries and his struggle against this procrastination makes for some funny scenes.  He decides that he will cram for his math exams and makes a strict schedule to reread his math book in the few days leading up to his exam.  He always finds something to distract him from his studies; he reads a book, talks a walk, has a nap and basically does anything but study for his exam.  His novel, likewise, never comes to fruition despite his plans that are outlined at the beginning of his diary.  As his diary entries continue, he mentions the novel less and less frequently.  The one thing in his life that keeps his attention are his books.  As a rabid bibliophile myself, I related to Eliade’s obsessive love of books.

Eliade shows us that adolescence is a struggle that all humans experience as a rite of passage.  We have all gone through that awkward phase during which we are still considered children but are looking forward to adulthood and the responsibilities that are not far away.  At one point in the diary Eliade is playing cops and robbers and throwing dirt at his friends.  In another episode he is frustrated with his lack of romantic and physical relationships so he seeks out prostitutes to fulfill his desires.  The end of the diary takes on a more melancholy tone as Eliade realizes that he will soon be graduating from the lycee and the comforting space of his attic room will not always be his.

This book is a philosophical commentary on what it means to step out of childhood and into the dark and scary world of adulthood.  Sometimes funny, sometimes contemplative, and sometimes sad this book will appeal to a wide range of readers.   Thanks to Istros Books for bringing this timeless classic to a new generation of English readers.

About the Author:
mircea-eliade-young_56d0650fb2d02_250x800rMircea Eliade was born in 1907 in Bucharest, the son of an army officer. He lived in India from 1928-1932, after which he obtained a doctorate in philosophy with a thesis on yoga, and taught at the University of Bucharest for seven years. During the war he was a cultural attaché in London and Lisbon, and from 1945 taught at the École des haut études in Paris and several other European universities.

In 1957 he took up the chair of history of religion at the University of Chicago, a post that he held until his death in 1986. Fluent in eight languages, his extensive body of work includes includes studies of religion and the religious experience that remain influential, such as The Sacred and the Profane, and numerous works of literature, including The Forbidden Forest, Bengal Nights and Youth without Youth, both of which were adapted for the screen. – See more at: http://istrosbooks.com/products/authors/mircea-eliade-67/#sthash.bpqkp6oR.dpuf

 

10 Comments

Filed under Classics, Literature in Translation

10 responses to “Review: Diary of a Short-sighted Adolescent by Mircea Eliade

  1. Nice review Melissa! I’m so glad you read this. I finally asked Susan to send a PDF this weekend because the book they sent seems to have disappeared along with virtually everything I’ve ordered or expected from the UK since February. So depressing. Now I won’t have time to read it for a few weeks, but it sounds like fun when I get to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Joe! I highly recommend this one. We can all relate to Eliade because we are all teenagers at one point. There are some very funny scenes at school and with his friends. But there is also a more serious, philosophical side to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I came to Eliade’s work in college in religion classes. His “Yoga: Immortality and Freedom” had the aura of a classic work of scholarship. What a surprise to read his fiction, heavily autobiographical and sometimes bitter, if not vindictive (I’m thinking of Bengal Nights). Interesting to read your account of his novel of adolescen’ve. Eliade received notice for his fiction in The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary Fiction as a significant Romanian writer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve recently read this one myself (or reread it, to be honest – I am Romanian and read it in Romanian when it first came out in 1989 and I was of the age of the author). I enjoyed it then and of course nowadays I am much more aware of the self-irony as Eliade depicts the typical plights of a nerdy, self-obsessed teenager… a familiar sight to so many of us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And he is so self-conscious and so unsure of himself. It is really a timeless classics, we can all relate because we were all teenagers once. What did you think of this English translation? I am curious about what you think since you read it in the original Romanian!

      Like

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Nice review Melissa. I’m reading about 20th century Romania myself at the moment and this sounds very appealing.

    Like

  5. I’m looking forward to reading this – moreso now I’ve read your review. I came across Eliade when looking for novels to read for the 1938 challenge and spotted this was coming out.

    Liked by 1 person

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