Readathon · stuff I read

At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with an Introduction by Anita Desai

42595346Summary from Goodreads:
Multilayered, subtle, insightful short stories from the inimitable Booker Prize-winning author, with an introduction by Anita Desai

Nobody has written so powerfully of the relationship between and within India and the Western middle classes than Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. In this selection of stories, chosen by her surviving family, her ability to tenderly and humorously view the situations faced by three (sometimes interacting) cultures—European, post-Independence Indian, and American—is never more acute.

In “A Course of English Studies,” a young woman arrives at Oxford from India and struggles to adapt, not only to the sad, stoic object of her infatuation, but also to a country that seems so resistant to passion and color. In the wrenching “Expiation,” the blind, unconditional love of a cloth shop owner for his wastrel younger brother exposes the tragic beauty and foolishness of human compassion and faith. The wry and triumphant “Pagans” brings us middle-aged sisters Brigitte and Frankie in Los Angeles, who discover a youthful sexuality in the company of the languid and handsome young Indian, Shoki. This collection also includes Jhabvala’s last story, “The Judge’s Will,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2013 after her death.

The profound inner experience of both men and women is at the center of Jhabvala’s writing: she rivals Jane Austen with her impeccable powers of observation. With an introduction by her friend, the writer Anita Desai, At the End of the Century celebrates a writer’s astonishing lifetime gift for language, and leaves us with no doubt of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s unique place in modern literature.

I sat down to read a few more stories in At the End of the Century during the 24in48 Readathon only to find that my galley had expired!!! Qu’elle horreur!! (Please forgive my terrible French.) I had only read the Introduction by Anita Desai and the first three stories, so not enough to really give an truly informed review of the book, but I did love what I had read. Jhabvala was the writer behind the famed “Merchant-Ivory” production company that produced films like A Room With a View (winner of the Academy Award for Adapted Script), Howard’s End (also won the Academy Award for Adapted Script), The Remains of the Day (nominated for the Academy Award), and adaptations of her own short stories and novels including The Householder and Heat and Dust (winner of the 1975 Booker Prize). So I had already loved her writing and requested access to the digital galley. Now, these are not short stories you can just rush though and hop from one to the other. I found that I needed a bit of time between the stories to process to I wouldn’t mix up the characters. In the handful of stories I read, I could see why Jhabvala is often compared to Jane Austen. There was an eye for the minutia of middle class life in India, with a bit of ironic distance, that compares with Austen’s eye for detail among the landed gentry in late Georgian England. I just failed to outrun the expiration date on the galley. This is a collection that I would like to pick up and finish – she has a unique perspective as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who married an Indian man in London and moved with him back to India in the 1950s, raised her children and began writing in the 1950s and 1960s, then also lived in the United States near the end of her career.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but it expired before I could finish reading.

 

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