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Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
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Heat and Dust (1975)

by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

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9922613,341 (3.53)88
A profound and powerful novel, winner of the Booker Prize Set in colonial India during the 1920s, Heat and Dust tells the story of Olivia, a beautiful woman suffocated by the propriety and social constraints of her position as the wife of an important English civil servant. Longing for passion and independence, Olivia is drawn into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply involved in gang raids and criminal plots. She is intrigued by the Nawab's charm and aggressive courtship, and soon begins to spend most of her days in his company. But then she becomes pregnant, and unsure of the child's paternity, she is faced with a wrenching dilemma. Her reaction to the crisis humiliates her husband and outrages the British community, breeding a scandal that lives in collective memory long after her death.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
This was a quick read. it is written in a very unemotional way, which sometimes makes it hard to fully understand the motivations of the characters.

In 1923 Olivia is married to Douglas, a local government official in Satipur. She loves Douglas, but she is bored and they seem unable to conceive a child. She is flattered and entertained by the attentions of the Nawab, a local Muslim prince and begins to sound all her time with him. We know from the opening sentence that she runs off with him.

In the 1970s Douglas' granddaughter travels to India to discover more about Olivia, aided by letter she wrote to her sister. The granddaughter, who appears to be independently wealthy, is not named.

I found this compelling, but various things remained unexplained:

SPOILERS

Did Olivia have the abortion intending to tell both Douglas and the Nawab that she had miscarried and planning to continue her life as before? Surely her life in the mountains turned out to be far less satisfactory than the one she had been living with Douglas... Why did the granddaughter feel it was OK to sleep with her landlord? How was it acceptable to the local community for Chid to live with her? What happened to Chid? ( )
  pgchuis | Jan 27, 2019 |
In Heat and Dust, we have Olivia, the beautiful society wife of Douglas, the “upright and just” civil servant who “worked like a Trojan” in pre-independence India. Left to her own devices in a house full of servants all day long, Olivia is bored out her mind, but one fine day they get invited to a dinner party the Nawab’s palace at Khatm.

"His eyes often rested on her, and she let him study her while pretending not to notice. She liked it – as she had liked the way he had looked at her when she had first come in. His eyes had lit up – he checked himself immediately, but she had seen it and realised that here at last was one person in India to be interested in her the way she was used to."

After the first few pages, it is clear to us Olivia’s story will be intertwined with Nawab’s.

Fast forward fifty years, we have Olivia’s step-granddaughter, the narrator of the story whose name we never learn, visiting post-independence India to find out more about her ‘scandalous’ ancestor.

I don’t believe the story of Heat and Dust will stay with me for long. After all the plot is not much to rave of. However, I found Ruth Jhabvala’s writing to be dazzling. Her depictions of India read like a love letter, and through the eyes of two foreign women belonging to two generations who come to fall in love with India, despite their reservations, she paints us, her India.

"‘Yes it [Himalayas] is climbing up into heaven. There is cool air and breezes, clouds, birds, and trees. Then there is only snow, everything is white and sun also is shining white."

She reminds us there is more to India than people living in small huts squatting by the side of roads, that there’s something serene and simple amidst its bustling cities. But not even Elizabeth Gilbert who went to India on a spiritual journey to find herself in Eat, Pray, Love captures its incredible dimensions the way Ruth Jhabvala does.

"I have not yet traveled on a bus in India that has not been packed to bursting-point, with people inside and luggage on top; and they are always so old that they shake up every bone in the human body and every screw in their own. If the buses are always the same, so is the landscape through which they travel. Once a town is left behind, there is nothing till the next one expect flat land, broiling sky, distances and dust."

Ruth Jhabvala, the only person ever to have won both the Man Booker and Academy awards, was married to an Indian architect and lived in Delhi for over a twenty years. Event though as we read the novel we feel a hint of nostalgia, in her writing Ruth Jhabvala is not pretentious. She doesn’t shy away from ancient customs such as Suttee that got outlawed in 1829, where faithful widows jump into the fires that burn their dead husbands’ bodies, which most people would call barbaric, or claim Indian curries a gastronomical experience no one should miss!

"He accompanied them to the place of execution and joined them in their last prayers. He watched the noose being placed around their necks and stayed till the very last moment. At that last moment, one of them – Tikku Ram, a man of very high caste – suddenly turned to the hangman and began to ask ‘Are you a—?’ but could not finish because the hangman had slipped the hood over his face. The missing word was probably ‘chamar‘ – he was worried about the caste of the hangman who was performing this last intimate function for him. It was apparently his only worry at that moment of departure."

Instead, her observations delivered in humorous prose grow in us, making us see past the imperfections of India and fall for everything – from its vibrant hues and cacophony of sounds to the overwhelming chaos – it has to offer. ( )
  Nirmala.Chandrasiri | Nov 30, 2016 |
Unnamed narrator, in the 1970s is searching for information about her grandfather's first wife, Olivia Rivers, in 1920s India. The book takes us back and forth from the 1970s through the narrator's diary entries back to the 1920s in Raj India and Olivia's story. The book contrasted Raj and the India of the present. The strongest element of the story was the evocation of India, especially through its descriptions of the climate--mostly "heat and dust." This also served as a metaphor for the heating up and consummation of the affair between Olivia and the Nawab , a minor prince. I disliked all of the characters: Olivia was a whiner and the present-day woman was just...there. But both were mesmerized by India and chose different outcomes as solution to the same dilemma. I liked the author's simple, spare style, clipped and terse dialogue and evocation of the country. ( )
  janerawoof | Feb 2, 2016 |
I like the way the two strands of the story were woven together. One the story of the British grandmother who ran away from her husband and married an Indian prince. The second story of the grandmother trying to piece together this story. Both are stories about the power of India. Both women are drawn into the culture in ways that estrange them from their own English stories. Neither can really go back.

The book was read in a lovely way by Julie Christie. I would recommend the book just for the reading. ( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
An eloquent and beautifully poised novella comparing and contrasting the experiences of two English women in India. The unnamed narrator travels to India to investigate and tell the story of her father's first wife, a bored housewife who has an affair with a local prince. Their two stories are alternated and have many parallels, as well as contrasts between colonial and independent India. It is easy to see why this book won the Booker prize. ( )
1 vote bodachliath | Nov 12, 2015 |
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Shortly after Olivia went away with the Nawab, Beth Crawford returned from Simla.
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