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Heat & Dust Hardcover – 1976
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'A superb book. A complex story line, handled with dazzling assurance ... moving and profound. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has not only written a love story, she has also exposed the soul and nerve ends of a fascinating and compelling country. This is a book of cool, controlled brilliance. It is a jewel to be treasured' -- The Times 'A writer of genius ... a writer of world class -- a master storyteller' -- Sunday Times 'Coolly assured novel ... Written with seek elegance, this book delves into the heart of an unmistakably seductive country' -- The Good Book Guide 20031101 'Her tussle with India is one of the richest treats of contemporary literature' -- Guardian 20031101 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala published twelve novels including the Booker Prize-winning Heat and Dust and five volumes of short stories. She also wrote more than a dozen screenplays, including Howard's End and A Room with a View, for both of which she received an Academy Award. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died in 2013. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The novel concerns a young English woman, the narrator, who arrives in Bombay intending to make it her home for a while and to reconstruct the story of the doomed marriage of her grandfather, a law officer named Douglas Rivers, and his first wife, Olivia, from a collection of intriguing letters that Olivia had written to her sister Marcia. From the beginning Jhabvala splits the novel into two parallel narratives, alternating between the Riverses in 1923 and the narrator in India fifty years later, who presents her adventures, thoughts, and reflections in the form of a journal.
Olivia Rivers is a bored housewife who has little to do besides playing the piano and chatting with the other British officers' wives until she becomes enamored with the charming Indian prince, called the Nawab, who governs the district Douglas serves. A living emblem of amoral corruption and aristocratic gluttony, the Nawab dwells in an ancestral palace that arrogantly overlooks the wretched slums of the neighboring town and supports an entourage of servants and sycophantic companions including an effeminate Englishman named Harry. Jhabvala employs these elements to shape a dramatic arc that leads from extramarital attraction to adultery and finally to Olivia's disgrace following an ugly scandal for which she could never be forgiven back in England.
The narrator's analogous existence within the pages gives the novel an even broader context; she too falls in love with an Indian man, although a much humbler one, a meek clerk named Inder Lal. She also observes that India is a magnet for Europeans in search of a certain spirituality that they have failed to find in Western religions; in particular she meets a young Englishman who has become a Hindu ascetic, calling himself Chid, but who cannot handle the hardships of a land of such disease and poverty. The novel's title refers to the general climate of the region of which the narrator writes, a scorching exacerbation of the hopeless squalor in which the vast majority of the population lives.
I am aware that Jhabvala has written screenplays based on classic novels, including Forster's, for the Merchant-Ivory film team, and I confess that I somewhat expected "Heat and Dust" to be a pastiche of Forster, but I was pleased to find that Jhabvala, although like Forster a lucid and elegant prose stylist, has a distinctive literary voice, specifically in her shrewd eye for the particularities of Indian culture. From the suttee stones, morbid monuments to Hindu widows who have immolated themselves in their husbands' funeral pyres, to the British cemeteries memorializing the soldiers fallen in the 1857 mutinies, "Heat and Dust" is a valuable tour through 1920s and 1970s India.
Douglas Rivers, an upper echelon English civil servant, married and brought his adored wife, Olivia, with him to India in 1923, during the British Raj. She was a beautiful, spoiled and spirited young woman, who found it difficult to adjust to life in the British colonial community of Satipur. Feeling suffocated by the inbred group she was forced to socialize with, Olivia longed for independence, intellectual stimulation and a more passionate life. She hoped that a baby would solve her problems but found it more difficult to become pregnant than she had thought. Shortly after their arrivel in India, Douglas, Olivia and some of the more important members of the community were invited to the palace of the Nawab of Khatm and she was immediately intrigued by the handsome, charismatic prince. He courted her friendship aggressively and then the friendship turned passionate. When faced with a crisis Olivia was forced to make life altering decisions which would have far reaching effects and cause scandal throughout British India and England that would last for generations.
Anne stays in the town where her grandfather and Olivia lived fifty years before. Trying to piece together the puzzle that was Olivia and discover what motivated her to change her life so drastically, Anne visits the places her "step-grandmother" frequented and interviews people who knew her or knew of her. She also reads the letters and journals that Olivia wrote so long ago, and oddly enough, Anne ventures into experiences similar to Olivia's adventures, but more acceptable in our modern time. Anne's spiritual and sensual journey in the 1970s parallels Olivia's as the color, heat, exotic landscapes, and people of India penetrate her western upbringing. Anne writes in her own diary: "Fortunately, during my first few months here, I kept a journal, so I have some record of my early impressions. If I were to try and recollect them now, I might not be able to do so. They are no longer the same because I myself am no longer the same. India always changes people, and I have been no exception."
This short and delicately written novel packs a powerful punch and paints an extraordinary portrait of British colonials in India, with their sense of cultural and moral superiority over the local population. However, even more compelling and unusual, is the story of two women, generations apart, who follow similar paths under the spell of India.
The descriptions of India throughout the book in both eras were amazing and very evocative, both of the individual eras and of the landscape.
While technically very well written, I did not find the book fully enjoyable. I did not feel as though the characters of either of the two women were fully fleshed out, and I found this distracting throughout the book. Many of the minor characters were even less well developed, and this made them seem like little more than stereotypes.
While not the best book I have read recently, it is short and a quick read, and worth the time.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Our heroine tried to understand the heart of his step-grandmother and finally followed her own heart, which was...Read more