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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Diary of a
Short-Sighted Adolescent


by
Mircea Eliade


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent



Title: Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent
Author: Mircea Eliade
Genre: Novel
Written: 1925 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 191 pages
Original in: Romanian
Availability: Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent - US
Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent - UK
Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent - Canada
Le roman de l'adolescent myope - France
Il romanzo dell'adolescente miope - Italia
La novela del adolescente miope - España
  • Romanian title: Romanul adolescentului miop
  • First published in serialized form in 1925; published as book in 1989
  • Translated by Christopher Moncrieff, "with reference to an original translation by Christopher Bartholomew"

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Our Assessment:

B+ : accomplished, playful variation on the obsessively brooding adolescent-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 30/3/2016 Nicholas Lezard
Irish Times . 9/4/2016 Eileen Battersby


  From the Reviews:
  • "I almost suspect some fabrication at work, as if the book were not by a 17-year-old but had been contrived by a much older, wiser and more cunning author. Another reason I entertained this suspicion was that, quite simply, it is too good. (...) But, my word, it is plausible." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Christopher Moncrieff who also worked on the French translation published in 1992 has now skilfully guided the wistful, at times petulant and always convincing youthful voice into wry, plain English possessing a hint of an edgy, quasi- confiding quality. After all it is caught between being a journal and a novel. Our young hero has ambitions but he also has doubts. (...) Most readers will think an earlier variation of Adrian Mole has surfaced with a far more sophisticated interest in literature and philosophical streak. He is less knowing than Holden Caulfield and far more likeable, more believable." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Near the conclusion -- which also signals the beginning, Eliade already playing with the creative novelist's (rather than mere diarist's) tricks -- young Eliade (then still in his late teens) writes:

I'm going to write The Novel of the Short-Sighted Adolescent. But I'll write it as 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.
       This is, indeed, how the book unfolds -- as even as it is diary-like over stretches, there are many chapters that could essentially be stand-alones, along with episodic pieces more fitting in a novel, and more carefully developed than they would be in an authentic diary.
       The title given the English-language version or Eliade's 'roman' is Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent -- a change that can seem questionable (the narrator emphatically wants to write, and maintains he is writing, a novel), but is perhaps justified by the cover pay-off, where there's a line through the 'Diary' in the title, and 'Novel' is penciled in in red, a perfect rendering of the author's (and book's) confused state.
       Eliade, through his narrator, teases from the beginning, the work opening in adolescent fashion, a teen eager to write a novel after years of keeping a diary -- but unable to move beyond the completely self-obsessed and introspective diaristic form and perspective. In fact, Eliade is fooling: he's aware of novelistic artifice, and plays it up to the hilt; only halfway through the book, when he devotes a chapter to his repeated failures to get paid for his pieces that keep getting published in a leading (but poverty-pleading) literary journal is it made clear that even this very young narrator is already an old hand in the literary game
       The self Eliade presents here, however, is that of the torn teen still searching for ... everything. Part of his problem -- so also in writing a novel -- is that he lacks almost any experience. He's still at that very confused stage and age:
     I'd like to know who I am, because I don't know. I've filled a great many notebooks trying to find out, but I haven't succeeded. My novel is going to be full of strange heroes. Their souls won't be one-dimensional, or all of a piece. Up till now I've never met an adolescent with a soul like this.
       Burying himself in his books, and his writing, he lacks almost any real-world experience -- and bemoans that lack. Among his insights is that books alone -- "so cold and foolish" -- are not the answer: a previous novel-effort was a project titled: A Voyage around my Library, the narrator trapping himself in the bookish world he felt most comfortable in. But by now the narrator seeks escape: he constantly (re)turns to books -- he remains a great reader -- but looks for possible entry-ways to the real world, too.
       He understands that there is something, but it still overwhelms him; he can barely imagine the leap there is to take:
     My real life is just beginning. And so is my real struggle. The struggle against Papini, the World, and the Demiurge. And the struggle against myself: the fiercest of all.
       [He refers here to Giovanni Papini's wallow in The Failure.]
       He tries to convince his readers -- and, more obviously, himself:
I'm not like other adolescents, a naïve dreamer, sickly, foolish, sentimental and ridiculous. My soul is made of sterner stuff. My will might be absurd, yet it is still firm, formidable, thrusting aside and choking off all that stands in its path.
       Yet much of the story demonstrates his lack of willpower -- his inability to study for his maths tests, for example. The narrator may (occasionally) claim to be made of sterner stuff, but he also never tries to hide the ridiculous adolescent in him: this is the story of an adolescent who is exactly like all the other (except, of course, in those individual details -- which in his case range from a greater interest than most have in books, as well as greater shyness around the girls (and, of course, there are those "erudite preoccupations" of his ...)). And at times he admits outright: "I believe that I lack the genuine willpower to choose certain aspirations, and to satisfy and achieve them".
       So too he moans a lot about just not getting ahead with his grand novel-project (even as, of course, the reader is reading the ultimately-obviously-successful outcome ...). Eventually he even leaps ahead -- and finds himself disappointed that time passing is not enough either:
     A year has passed. And not one of us has died, although it feels as if many of us are dead.
       He believes he's getting there -- yet still doesn't know the way forward:
     My adolescent jottings are coming to an end. When will I dare start my novel ?
       Yet, of course, the reader holds the finished work in their hands (and, indeed, is near the end at that point ...).
       A great deal of Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent is this adolescent self-/soul-searching, but along the way Eliade also gives a good impression of school- and adolescent-life in the Bucharest of that time, from academic concerns to putting on a show to skirt-chasing. Several practically self-contained episodes also give glimpses into something more, from the narrator's difficulties getting paid for his literary work, to the initiation at and then weekly visits to the bordello, remarkably rendered. More unsettling is a secret habit of self-flagellation -- a (very?) guilty pleasure ("It was the only pleasure I allowed myself") brought up in one chapter but then left in the shadows again. (It is disturbing stuff -- "After this came a moment of ecstasy. The pain brought me closer to myself; purified me. That one moment was my reward for an entire day's work. A single moment" -- and a more honest exploration of the adolescent self would surely have understood the need to address this more closely.)
       Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent is a cleverly contrived work, entirely authentic yet obviously carefully -- literarily -- fashioned into exactly this story, very much a novel rather than just a simple diary. It's hardly a new story, and Eliade hardly adds any new insights or twists to the familiar old one, but it's a fine example of the genre -- and more than just a teenage-wallow.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2016

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Links:

Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent: Reviews: Mircea Eliade: Other books by Mircea Eliade under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Romanian author Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) taught at the University of Chicago.

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© 2016 the complete review

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