EAST INTO UPPER EAST by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

EAST INTO UPPER EAST

Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi
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KIRKUS REVIEW

From Booker-winner Jhabvala (Shards of Memory, 1995, etc.) comes fourteen compressed stories (five published previously), mostly set in New Delhi or New York, in which themes of rivalry, family discord, and loyalty at odds with convention are explored with consummate grace and skill. For the six tales from India, the ministerial level of civil service in the generations living after Indian independence (1947) offers a frequent point of departure: In one story (—Independence—), a woman lends her expertise to arranging proper social functions for less sophisticated members of the new Indian ruling class, thereby rousing the scorn of her drunken poet husband, and finds a sweet but fitful solace in the arms of a general being groomed as Minister of Defense; in another, a college boy, expected by his mother to follow in the footsteps of her illustrious family, falters when his girlfriend’s father, prominent in government, is forced from office in a bribery scandal (“A New Delhi Romance”). As for the seven New York pieces, a curious picture of life on the Upper East Side emerges as sex looms large to skew normal relations: A young wife watches as her husband pursues various men from their beach house, then has to put up with her mother falling head over heels for one of his conquests (“A Summer by the Sea”). Elsewhere, a daughter’s preference for carpentry and the willowy clerk in a cheese shop is not what her frosty, chauffeur-driven mama had in mind (“Broken Promises”). The gem here, though, is set in London, where an ÇmigrÇ writer’s struggle to balance a need for both his wife and his mistress is observed by his young granddaughter (“Two Muses”). Each piece of Jhabvala’s worldly mosaic offers precise, subtle views of people who are trying to make the best of their lives: their essential humanity remains compelling—even if their circumstances sometimes seem too much alike.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1998
ISBN: 1-887178-50-3
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998




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