(also a 2007 movie by Francis Ford Coppola)
This is a very off-beat piece of fiction written by one of our greatest experts on the subject of religion. I can't say I really enjoyed it in a literary sense, but I have to say it was provocative enough to hold my attention and consider a second reading!
This book attempts to meld eastern metaphysics with western science and poses many questions which go unanswered. Yet all of the philosophical attributes are infused with early second world war history, Nazi scientists, hidden documents, intrigue with a beautiful spy from the Gestapo, miraculous recoveries and ancient languages. Reincarnation is also involved, which supplies enough romance to make the story a story rather than a vehicle for the writer's own philosophy.
The protagonist, Dominic Matei, is a former language professor who experiences what is referred to as the "rejuvenation by electricity" as a very old man and becomes young again just as he is preparing to leave his homeland -- Romania. The reasons for his decision to leave turn out to be in turn, tragic, then fortuitous, then frightening, sensational and ultimately tragic again.
Years after his experience, he falls in love with a young woman who reminds him of an earlier love and who, after having been struck by lightning, is able to speak in ancient but heretofore unknown foreign tongues. This burst back to the ancients to a time even before the Buddha, comes towards the end of the book - certainly within the last one third and well after we've seen the results of our hero's own transformation.
There is so much rich philosophical material here, that I admittedly need to do some additional research as to content - first, on the philosophy of Chantrakirti, next, the Butterfly Dream as presented by Chunang Tzu and then, the philosophy of Nietzsche, whose theories apparently coincide with the ancient Chunang Tzu. The "double" is introduced in the book as well (I think it is the modern version of the doppleganger"), as is reincarnation, a theory I'm extremely comfortable with. At last, I would like to read more of Mircea Eliade's own work including "The Sacred and the Profane," "Shamanism," and "The History of Religious Ideas."
In conclusion, I'd say the book ranks mid-way in literary excellence, but the material is irresistible and challenges those of us who are sick to death of formula writing and TV sitcoms and reality shows directed towards a pre-pubescent mentality.