Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent, the first novel of Mircea Eliade, the Romanian author and historian of religions, is being released in a first-time English translation on April 12 in the UK. The book is published by Istros Books, in the translation of Christopher Moncrieff.
Set against the background of 1930s Bucharest and its recognizable landmarks such as the Cismigiu Park, the Carol Park or the Kiseleff Boulevard, the novel chronicles the author’s high-school years, the torments and aspirations of the age. Exposing the premise of the novel, the author is preoccupied with the authenticity of the account. “My attic is the same as ever: quiet, lonely, sad. I’m going to write The Novel of the Short-Sighted Adolescent. But I’ll write it as if I’m writing the author’s Diary. My book won’t be a novel, but a collection of comments, notes, sketches for a novel. It’s the only way of capturing reality, both natural and dramatic at once.”
Mircea Eliade’s first novel remained a manuscript for almost six decades and was published only after his death, at the end of the 1980s. Between 1926 and 1927 several fragments from the novel appeared in local magazines of the time such as Cuvântul, Universul Literar and Viața Literară. Several versions of the novel exist, carrying different titles. Started in 1921, it was initially called Jurnalul unui om sucit (The Diary of a Strange Man). By 1923 it had become Romanul unui om sucit (The Novel of a Strange Man) until it took its final form, written between 1924-1925, of Romanul Adolescentului Miop.
“Eliade may be describing the life of a student in a Romanian lycée of almost a century ago, but anyone who has ever been at school, full of ideals but also too shy to speak to the opposite sex, or incapable of revising for an exam until the very last minute, will relate to this,” wrote The Guardian’s Nicholas Lezard reviewing the book last week.
Mircea Eliade, who taught at the University of Chicago from 1956 until his retirement in 1983, is known for the fictional work with fantastic influences. Some of the best-known novels he authored are Maitreyi (La Nuit Bengali or Bengal Nights), Noaptea de Sânziene (The Forbidden Forest), Isabel și apele diavolului (Isabel and the Devil’s Waters), the novellas Domnișoara Christina (Miss Christina) and Tinerețe fără tinerețe (Youth Without Youth), and the short stories Secretul doctorului Honigberger (The Secret of Dr. Honigberger) and La Țigănci (With the Gypsy Girls).
This new translation from Mircea Eliade will be the focus of Romania’s participation at the London Book Fair, which takes place April 12 to April 14 2016.
It comes after the release at the end of February of the translation of Mihail Sebastian’s 1934 novel For 2000 Years (De două mii de ani). The book appeared for the first time in English at Penguin Classics, translated by Philip Ó Ceallaigh.
The novel tells about what the life as a Jew was like at the time, in a climate of increasing anti-Semitism. The book caused controversy at the time of its appearance after the author decided to keep a preface written by Nae Ionescu and containing anti-Semitic comments.
Born Iosif Mendel Hechter, Sebastian was a Romanian playwright, essayist, journalist and novelist. He came to the attention of the Romanian literature public with his plays, namely Steaua fără Nume (The Star Without a Name), Jocul de-a vacanţa (Holiday Games), and Ultima oră (Breaking News). His Journal, chronicling his personal experiences and the cultural and political life of Romania between 1935 and 1944, was published in 1996, five decades after his death.
At the London Book Fair, the public interested in Romanian literature will also be able to find Ruxandra Cesereanu’s novel Angelus, published in English in December 2015 and Dumitru Ṭepeneag’s The Bulgarian Truck, published in English in February of this year.
Simona Fodor, Associate Editor, [email protected]