Sunday, September 20, 2009

Heat and Dust.

Author : Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Genre : Historical Fiction
Rating : 5.5/10

It's the Indian Connection. I am aware of how authors of the subcontinent seem to fascinate my contemporaries. But I have always found myself drawn to books written about India, by expat novelists. It comes down to the fact that I like to sneak a glimpse of the world through someone else's eyes. Someone whose sense of perception is completely different from mine, owning to vast degrees of separation in geographical location, cultural upbringing, schools of thought and social conditioning(or the lack of it). That, as opposed to being told how I could have viewed it differently myself.

Set as a contrast palette between pre and post-colonial India, Heat and Dust is the story of two women and their discovery of India, for all that it is. Olivia, the Schumann-playing, bored wife of an English civil servant posted in Satipur and the other, her step-granddaughter, who travels to the country in search of Olivia's story. Her story of days spent in monotony, stifled by the norms of propriety imposed upon her in a segregated society, and eventual elopement with an Indian prince. With several threads of discontent sewn in between, about and around. Held together through ruins, old letters and an almost-poignant narrative, the book weaves a tale of people and places, without quite capturing the protagonist's psyche. One expects more complexity of character, and is left wanting. Which is a pity really, considering how the storyline leaves no dearth of opportunity for the same. Page through page, depth is blatantly conspicuous by it's absence.

Occasionally, Prawer's impressive capabilities peak out of their shell and surprise you. But then again, they seem to possess an unfortunate love for playing hide-and-seek. An instance of the same may be cited here, for posterity:
"Fortunately, during my first few months here, I kept a journal, so I have some record of my early impressions. If I were to try and recollect them now, I might not be able to do so. They are no longer the same because I myself am no longer the same. India always changes people, and I have been no exception."

To be fair, it does draw to a magnificent close. The climax is superbly laid out. Striking as it is, it is typical for books of the genre to have their beginnings and middles carved out flawlessly like a marble sculpture, with their ends mildly disfigured and abrupt. However, with this particular one, one is left with nothing more to say. Except, that an ending as beautiful as this, deserves a better story to precede it.

11 comments:

Rebel Pandith said...

Real neat review there.


[I thought I was the only one who fancied the likes of William Dalrymple]

Tangled up in blue... said...

Not many are good at historical fiction, really. I enjoyed The White Mughals, quite a bit myself.

But I wonder if I'll want to read this, really.

Thanks for the review. I like reading these. :)

Rebel Pandith said...

Same goes here.
:)
Im Ram, btw(Forgive my manners. I have a certain disregard for them..sometimes.)

Death On Two Legs said...

Someone once said that if you're a good enough writer, you'll be able to phrase it in words, instead if saying something escapist and generic. I wonder if it's true, but you seem to share that sentiment.

And Ooh, do read Passage to India if you haven't already.

Sherry Wasandi said...

@ Rebel Pandith: The City of Djinns was fantastic. Especially since I've spent most of my life living in the capital.

Thanks Ram. Manners, are often not worth the trouble. :)

@ Tangled up in Blue: True. I haven't read The White Mughals though.

And I think the review does more for me than anyone else. :)
I like to gather my thoughts about what I read. It's good to have them as a tangible thing.

Sherry Wasandi said...

@ Death On Two Legs: I actually think there's more of an art to it. Writing, like painting, isn't about what is. It's more about what you see and the way you see it.

And I definitely will! Added to the list.
Thanks for the recommendation.

Anty said...

If you do happen to come to the fest, please bring this along. :)

Also, try "Anecdotes from a Diplomat". It'll strike much the same chord as Dalrymple does but since it's non-fiction the effect is quite different.

Sherry Wasandi said...

Sure will.

I've been wanting to delve deeper into non-fiction. Been looking for an excuse.

Clezevra said...

I wish I could write reviews that make people actually want to read the books I like...

PNA said...

Try the Moonstone (Wilkie Collins) don't know if it is strictly historical fiction, but on those lines ...

Sherry Wasandi said...

@ Clezevra: I usually just try and go for a well-rounded representation. The rest, follows.

@ PNA: I've never heard of Moonstone. The recommendation is greatly appreciated though.