SHARDS OF MEMORY by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala


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Jhabvala (Poet and Dancer, 1993, etc.) now limns, in a family saga with a difference, a disappointingly enervated four-generational quest for spiritual fulfillment. The time is the present, with flashbacks to the years following WW I, and the setting is New York City, but Jhabvala's characters seem dated echoes of other lives, belonging more to a sepia-tinted photograph than any recognizable place. Which means, though the story of four generations of Kopfs and Howards is suffused with the author's usual intelligence and sympathy for the quirky ways of the human heart, it lacks a vital immediacy. Over the years it seems that the family members, with the exception of ""Baby""--the extremely feminine sensualist--have felt compelled ""to do something more than just eat and sleep."" Now a grandmother still living in the family home, Baby recalls how her mother Elsa Kopf met and married Indian poet and patriot Kavi, who then moved into the Kopf household for the rest of his life while Elsa fled to London. There, along with her lover, Cynthia, she looked after the affairs of the Master, an enigmatic guru whom Elsa had first heard of in New York. Meanwhile, Baby, who married and then soon separated from Graeme Howard, a British diplomat with a mystic bent, was disappointed when her only child, deeply spiritual Renata, turned out to be just like her grandmother Elsa. Renata also meets the Master on a visit to England, but it isn't until middle age that she and husband Carl, a fellow mystic, become convinced that their son Henry might be the late Master's true successor--an idea that 20-ish Henry decides to explore, though it'll mean turning down beautiful Vera. Spiritual impulses in a Western and family setting provocatively and wittily explored, but more schematic than a story of the pilgrim heart by Jhabvala should be.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0385477236
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday