Book: Heat and Dust

Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Rating: 2.5/5

Heat and Dust-Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

'Heat and Dust' is a short novel by Jhabvala about two ladies in different time spans and their adventures in India. Olivia Rivers is a young lady from London who has accompanied her husband Douglas to British colonial India. While Douglas keeps himself busy at his office , Olivia is left to tend to herself through the long Indian hours in their bungalow.

The narrator of the story is the other lady in the novel who knows Olivia as the first wife of his grandfather Douglas. This narrator's name is never mentioned in the novel. The narrator has come to India in order to find out more about Olivia.

'Heat and Dust' is as much Olivia's story as it is a journal of the narrator's first impressions of India. 'India always changes people, and I have been no exception' says the narrator in the beginning of the story. Indeed, the novel goes on to depict how the heat and dusty countryside of Satipur converts the pretty, and doting Olivia into the harem lady of a corrupt and wasted Nawab. The narrator, two generations after Olivia, also readily absorbs the various 'characteristic odors of India', of 'spices, urine and betel'.

Social/Historical context:

Half of the novel is a journal of India post Independence. While many aspects of India pose as a culture shock, the narrator does seem to enjoy the simple rusticity, ordinariness and warmth of the small town of Satipur. A good part of the novel also paints the life of the British gentry who made India their home in the colonial era. The idle life of English ladies, the pretensions of the Indian royalty, the power games between the Raj and the Indian nobility are all touched upon in small snippets in this novel of deceptive simplicity.

Writing Style:

The novel has been written in a very lucid, matter of fact way. Two parallel stories progress in the novel in almost alternating chapters- one of Olivia and the other of the narrator herself. Each story is separated from the other by two generations but they seem to have a common string of interest between them- India and the effect it has on their lives.

My Thoughts:

I have lived in India all my life. I have watched beggars swarm around cars at traffic junctions, lived with betel nut stains on whitewashed walls of hospitals and government offices, and revered the holy cows that stalk past heavy trucks on crowded streets. I have lived with these and never known otherwise. Jhabvala's simple and honest depiction of India in her novel makes me get up and see India in a whole new light- through the eyes of a foreigner. Such a foreigner who knows that beggars are not 'dispensable' like the widowed and dying beggar Leelavati in the novel.

Book Reviewed by Ashmita Saha

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What Other Visitors Have Said

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AINT NO GOOD Not rated yet
I read this book and was extremly disappointed. Before I read it I did some research on India (Poverty, Geography, Politics etc.), because I thought that …

NO Not rated yet
anti-climatic and loaded with pointless details. Both narrator and Olivia cannot be associated to the reader and the book becomes impersonal and lengthy. …

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