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 withEliade'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. Maitreyi Devi (1914-1990) was a poet and lecturer, founder of the Council for the Promotion of Communal Harmony in 1964 and vice-president of the All-India Women's Coordinating Council. Her first book of verse appeared when she was sixteen, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore. Her publications include four volumes of poetry, eight works on Tagore, and numerous books on travel, philosophy, and social reform.
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(215mm x 136mm x 16mm)
University of Chicago Press
Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Turnabout is fair play. The woman mythologized as an enigmatic Indian maiden by Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade in Bengal Nights (see below) offers her own novelized version of their supposed torrid affair. Imagine making a trip to Europe as an adult and finding people who know intimate details of your teenaged years. Such was the experience of Devi (who died in 1990, an accomplished poet and scholar) when she found that Eliade, a renowned scholar of religion, had written a "semi-autobiographical" (he uses her actual first name in his story) account of his time with her family in Calcutta in the 1930s. When she heard that the young man with whom she had first felt the pangs of passion - but, in her account, had next to no physical contact - had portrayed their relationship as a wild, sexual affair that ended when her staunchly traditional family learned of it, her pleasant memories of the events turned to anger: This man "whose memory I preserved in the depth of heart as a sacred trust...has been selling my flesh for a price." Now, after Eliade's account has appeared in several languages and on film, Devi uses fiction to tell her side of the story. In lucid prose that calls into question the concepts of time, memory, and the adventuring spirit of the colonizing West, she undercuts Eliade's portrait of a curious, naive girl by showing just how cosmopolitan and precocious she was. After all, her first book of poems was published, with a preface by Rabindranath Tagore, when she was 16. She also denies that their affair led to beatings and disgrace. An engaging story from a talented and skillful poet, philosopher, and storyteller having her say about the tangled threads of passion and memory. (Kirkus Reviews)
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