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My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past…
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My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past

by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

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I had read that this was an autobiographical book so I was surprised to find it contained nine differently named narrators with different parents with Jhabvala announcing in her introductory apologia that these chapters are only ‘potentially autobiographical’.

So, in a way, it meant it was more like reading nine separate short stories except that in each narrator there were similar traits, traits in fact that echoes those I was in her anonymous narrator of ‘Heat and Dust’. They’re all self-sufficient, that is able in a curious way to get involved with other people, you could say taken advantage of – and most would – but her tone remains more that of the onlooker. This non-judgemental and sort of distant approach to events affecting her personally gives both books their unusual flavour.

By the middle of this book, though, I found myself tiring f yet another narrator’s passivity and credulity. As Helen says in ‘Springlake’, when speaking of her and her brother’s trust in the deceptive Maggie, ‘it was difficult to say what we based it on’, Maggie having failed at so many things in her life and being financially dependent n them. Is this all part of the Buddhism which seems to inform quite a bit of what I’ve read of Jhabvala’s writing?

And by the end of the book I felt Jhabvala had focused pretty exclusively on unequal relationships, love gone sour or evaporated or on continuing love, the result of non-judgemental acceptance. The repetition of a narrator accepting often meagre offerings or of wealthy, unscrupulous people always having enough money did make me relieved that there were no more than nine lives. Jhabvala has an unforced prose style but I felt more variety in theme was needed. ( )
  evening | Jan 7, 2014 |
An exploration of nine possible lives that the author could have lived. Unique. ( )
  Elishibai | Apr 28, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0719561833, Paperback)

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a novelist of unequalled insight, grace and emotional power. My Nine Lives represents a new and fascinating strand in her outstanding canon of work: as she puts it, the 'potentially autobiographical'. Behind her poised, eloquent prose Ruth Prawer Jhabvala deftly tussles with the existential question of how destiny is shaped. In each chapter of My Nine Lives the narrator faces a startlingly different fate. One story takes place in India, the next in New York; in one the narrator is grown married woman, in another a dependent daughter, in one a scholar, in another an uneducated ingenue. But a complex thread interlinks the seemingly disparate stories: the 'I' of each chapter has Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Jewish, Central European background. Here are nine different answers to the central question: what would happen if I were granted an alternative life?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:41 -0400)

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"In this book, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala explores nine possible lives. While each is located in deeply familiar territory, whether England, India, or America, and often overlaid with that essential Central European family background, each life is born of startlingly different origins and each reveals a different destiny. Here are nine different answers to the central question: what would happen if I were granted an alternative life?"--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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