A career-spanning collection of stories about the collision of East and West.
When Jhabvala (A Lovesong for India, 2012, etc.) died in 2013, she left behind a prodigious body of work that had garnered her a Booker Prize for Heat and Dust (1975) and Oscars for co-writing the screenplays to A Room with a View and Howards End. Born in Germany, educated in England, and married for more than 50 years to an Indian architect, Jhabvala described herself as a perpetual refugee, moving for much of her later life between New York’s Upper East Side and India. The 17 short stories in this collection take us from the early 1960s through 2013, though in a way they all feel as if they belong to an earlier time: Westerners, bored with their imploding lives, latch on to the perceived exoticism of India. In one story, two rich sisters (one married to a pompous American businessman, the other sleeping with him) become infatuated with a young Indian screenwriter (“Pagans”). In another, an English secretary heads to India to devote herself to assisting a guru despite the fact that she has competition for his attention from a brash German devotee (“A Spiritual Call”). Sometimes, Jhabvala switches the dynamics, as when a wealthy Indian college student begins a disastrous affair with a mousy English lecturer (“A Course of English Studies”). Whatever the premise, Jhabvala is interested in binaries; poverty plays a foil to wealth, India to Europe, age to youth, family to the individual. Even more, she wants to explore the ways that characters are shaken out of their familiar lives by “too much and too violent a humanity.”
Despite the old-fashioned milieu these stories move in, they are compelling in their elegance and for Jhabvala's poised, precise eye, which stays consistent and steady through the decades.