Tag Archives: Eastern Europe

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



Filed under Classics, Literature in Translation

Review: Farewell, Cowboy by Olja Savicevic

I received a review copy of this title from the publisher, Istros Books.  They are a small, independent British press that specializes in bringing the best literature from Eastern Europe into English translations.  Please visit their website for more information and additional titles: http://www.istrosbooks.com

My Review:
Farewell, CowboyDada has grown up in a small town in Croatia from which she escaped as soon a she could at the age of eighteen.  But she is drawn back to this bizarre town by the horrible suicide of her younger brother, Daniel.  The book is told from Dada’s point of view and we are given information about her life and hometown as Dada remembers it.  She speaks of memory being like a tape that “rolls forward and backwards.  Fw-stop-rew-stop-rec-play-stop, it stops at important places, some images flicker dimly frozen in a permanent pause, unclear.”  The narrative runs in the same way that Dada describes a tape: sometimes we get a passage that is an old memory and then all-of-sudden we are thrust into her present; Dada also likes to fast forward to her future and speculate on what she will do next.

The setting is a coastal town in Croatia which is hot, dirty and badly polluted.  Dada’s own father died from an acute case of asbestos poisoning.  People in the town, especially the children, love old westerns and when they were young,  Dada and her brother Daniel act out scenes from the westerns they have watched at the local movie theater.  Like a typical American western that takes place on the border between civilization and the vastly unorganized territory, Croatia at the time also occupies a space somewhere between civilization and a strange wilderness.  The western theme is fitting for a place like Croatia which was torn apart by war in the Balkans and it is Dada’s generation that is still trying to recover from this conflict.

Dada describes many eccentric characters that she has known since childhood; many residents of this town that she calls the “Old Settlement” do not seem to conform to what most would consider normal social behavior.  For example, her great-grandmother, who was a diabetic invalid, is described as the “insatiable one” because of her reputation for sex.  Professor Herr, a neighbor of Dada’s family and the local vet, has his home ransacked by a group of young people and he mysteriously disappears soon after.  It also seems that he is the only one who has any answers about Daniel’s mysterious and puzzling death.

The cowboy and western theme is further developed when a group of actors and extras show up to film a western-style movie.  All of the extras hang around the Old Settlement with their big hats and belt buckles.  Some of them even start shooting chickens with their pistols.  Dada has a very brief and passionate affair with one of these extras named Angelo.  It appears that Angelo also knew Dada’s brother Daniel and although he denies it, he might have some knowledge about Daniel’s mysterious death.

The final part of the book comes to a very fast-paced and dramatic conclusion.  The circumstances of Daniel’s death are revealed amidst a showdown between the fake cowboys and one of the eccentric villagers.  I was not surprised to learn that this author is also a poet since many of the lines in this book blur the distinction between lyric and prose.  In the end, we are reminded that cowboys, although a nice fantasy as a short distraction, are not real and that oftentimes there will never be a hero riding into town on that white horse.  Sometimes the bad guys do win.


About the Author:
oljasavicevic_514b20764bd97_250x800rOlja Savičević is an awarded poet and novelist, who burst onto the authorial stage with her short story collection Make the Dog Laugh in 2006. Last year, her collection of poems Mamasafari and Other Things was short-listed for the ‘Kiklop Award for Best Collection of 2012’, awarded annually by the Pula Book Fair. Her best-selling book Farewell, Cowboy has already achieved great success in the region, and was even adapted into a stage play. The book was translated by Celia Hawkesworth and published by Istros Books in April, 2015.


Filed under Literature in Translation