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Heat and Dust ()

Booker Prize Winners (1975)

Jhabvala is best known for her screenplays for Merchant and Ivory, in fact, the trio later made this book  into a film.  The novel tells the parallel tales of an unnamed young Englishwoman narrator and her grandfather's scandalous first wife; the one in modern day India, the other in the Raj India of the 1920's.  As the younger woman travels to the scene of episodes in the older woman's letters, she reveals details of the scandal.  Almost inevitably she begins to make the same mistakes as her predecessor and ends the novel in similar straights.

This is an enormously deja vu inducing book.  We've encountered every scene and character countless times before--the rigidly rational British colonial administrators, the catty British wives, the noble natives, the effete British men and foolish women who are seduced by the setting and the scandal ripped from the pages of Mandingo.

Two passages in the novel have the ring of truth:

The narrator meets several Western youths who have come to India seeking some mystic revelations, but as one of them says:

    [I came] to find peace, but all I found was dysentery.

and following the initial scandal, one Major Minnies concludes: is all very well to love and admire India--intellectually, aesthetically, he did not mention
    sexually but he must have been aware of that factor too--but always with a virile, measured,
    European feeling.  One should never, he warned, allow oneself to become softened (like Indians)
    by an excess of feeling; because the moment that happens--the moment one exceeds one's
    measure--one is in danger of being dragged over to the other side.

These are the two sentiments one takes away from the novel : the East is more likely to provide disease than enlightenment and Western reason is superior to Eastern sensuality.


Grade: (C)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Dull Days in Delhi (hammer job review from India Today)
    -The Movies of Merchant and Ivory
    -Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1923 - )

If you liked Heat and Dust, try:

Farrell, J.G.
    -The Siege of Krishnapur

Forster, E.M.
    -A Passage to India

Kipling, Rudyard

Mistry, Rohinton
    -Such a Long Journey

Seth, Vikram
    -A Suitable Boy


You people are misinterpreting one of the most important themes in the book which relates the spirituality. You cannot overlook the fact that both Oliviva and the Narrator find something in the mountains. What this" something" is is made deliberately ambiguous, but it is most likely a source of spiritual truth which leads to moral well-being.

- Anders

- May-08-2004, 10:33


I agree with you on your diagnosis of the Indian culture. I've met a lot of Indian men in US. What can I say? One can only expect sensual thoughts and very often, outright lies. It's too bad that the West has turned back on its greatest tradition, the Enlightenment. Many western folks, not just the naive girls, are easily conned today. What a pity!

When you refer to East, I don't suppose you meant China. It's been a land of wisdom and innovation for centuries.


- Y. Chen

- Jul-13-2003, 03:35