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Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
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Heat and Dust (original 1975; edition 1987)

by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

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794None11,532 (3.53)70
Member:jagmuse
Title:Heat and Dust
Authors:Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Info:Touchstone (1987), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:20th century, booker prize, colonialism, fiction, indian, own, tbr, women

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Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)

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I opened Heat and Dust hoping that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's 1975 Man Booker Prize winning novel would provide a fresh take on a theme explored by Paul Scott in The Jewel in the Crown (the first book in his Raj Quartet series) and of course that classic of the cultural divide; E M Forster's A Passage to India.

In many of the tributes written about Jhabvala on her death in April 2013, she was described as a "cold-eyed observer of people and places" and a writer whose status as a non-native inhabitant meant she could view the country with unemotional detachment.

Detached and unemotional are indeed good descriptions for this tale of the cultural divide between colonisers and the natives they govern and of those who try to break free from conventions and restrictions.

The story is that of an un-named woman who travels to India in an attempt to unravel the mystery of her step grandmother Olivia during the rule of the British in the 1920s. She deciphers the story mainly from letters Olivia wrote to her sister and by visiting places where her grandmother lived. Gradually we learn that Olivia's story is one of disgrace and scandal Feeling smothered by the restrictions of the British way of life in India, she fell under the spell of a Nawab (an Indian prince) for whom she abandoned her husband . Fifty years later her grand-daughter, though more independent and less naive than Olivia similarly becomes seduced by India. She too crosses the divide.

The novel has none of the tension found in Scott's novel nor does it have the subtleties of A Passage to India. It doesn't so much end as simply peters out inconclusively leaving me feeling decidedly underwhelmed. It's not what I look for in a prize-winning novel. ( )
  Mercury57 | Feb 5, 2014 |
This was dreadful--I can't believe it won the Booker Prize, or any prize. The characters were thin cliches, and the romanticized/mysticized portrayal of India was just embarrassing. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 4, 2014 |
The first chapter of this novel left me confused with its casual reference to a whole sequence of people we had yet to meet. I hurried on, hoping to encounter something I could understand. Later, when I had read a few chapters I revisited that first bit and of course it made perfect sense.

Together with the synopsis on the back cover, that first chapter pretty much sums up the dramatic part of this story. All that is left is the journey the characters go on to get there. One strand of the plot follows Olivia, the bored wife of a local official in Colonial India, who runs off with an Indian prince. The second one follows her “step grand-daughter” (which felt like an odd term but I can’t think of a better one) who moves to India fifty years later. Of course, the more modern strand of the story takes place in the 1970s and is as much a slice of historical India to us now as the 1920s strand was then.

I liked the elegant simplicity of the writing, the concentration on what was important and the ignoring of what was not. For a short novel, it was well populated but all the characters were interesting and served their purpose. There were many parallels between the 1920s and 1970s sections of the story and a second reading would no doubt reveal more. I wish the author had named the grand-daughter though. It always annoys me when people are left unnamed, even in a novel as good as this one. ( )
  jayne_charles | Nov 23, 2013 |
The lives of two women are laid out in this novel. Olivia, and her step-grand daughter. The former who lived in India in the 1920s and the latter who followed her there to try and piece together her legacy. It is a short legacy, the book being only 180 pages long, and so not much depth is found in either woman's story.

In that one period of time, 1923, the scene is set very nicely. We get a detailed snapshot of an ex-pat's life in India. So for that I appreciated it. They parallel story of Olivia's descendant is clever and equally restrained. So all in all, nice, but not enough to sink my teeth into. ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Oct 25, 2013 |
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust which won the Booker Prize in 1975 is a short and intense novel. The main story is one of a young woman from England who journeys to India to learn more about her past.
The story is about two ladies in different time spans and their adventures in India. Olivia Rivers is a young lady from London who has accompanied her husband Douglas to British colonial India. While Douglas keeps himself busy at his office , Olivia is left to tend to herself through the long Indian hours in their bungalow. However, the narrator of the story is the other lady in the novel who knows Olivia as the first wife of her grandfather Douglas. This narrator's name is never mentioned in the novel. The narrator has come to India in order to find out more about Olivia. Heat and Dust is as much Olivia's story as it is a journal of the narrator's first impressions of India. 'India always changes people, and I have been no exception' says the narrator in the beginning of the story. One of the most impressive aspects of the novel is the way the heat and dust is demonstrated -- you can almost feel it. This hot, dusty countryside of Satipur converts the pretty, and doting Olivia into the harem lady of a corrupt and wasted Nawab. The narrator, two generations after Olivia, also readily absorbs the various 'characteristic odors of India', of 'spices, urine and betel'.
Whether the reality of India is portrayed accurately the novel is effective in its narrative of love and becoming part of India. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 12, 2012 |
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Shortly after Olivia went away with the Nawab, Beth Crawford returned from Simla.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0671646575, Paperback)

Set in India, HEAT AND DUST is the story of Olivia, a beautiful, spoiled, bored English colonial wife in the 1920s who is drawn inexorably into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply involved in plots and intrigues. Olivia outrages the tiny, suffocating town where her husband is a civil servant by eloping with the captivating Nawab. It is also the story of Olivia's step-granddaughter who, fifty years later, is drawn to India by her fascination with the letters left behind by the now dead older woman, and by her obsession with solving the enigma of Olivia's scandal. A penetrating and compassionate love story, this brilliant novel immerses the reader in the heat, dust, and squalor of India, while providing a compelling mixture of the spiritual and the sensual.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:17 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Set in India, HEAT AND DUST is the story of Olivia, a beautiful, spoiled, bored English colonial wife in the 1920s who is drawn inexorably into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply involved in plots and intrigues. Olivia outrages the tiny, suffocating town where her husband is a civil servant by eloping with the captivating Nawab.… (more)

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