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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 June 2008
A deceptively simple story, written in a clear, economical and direct style. Set in India both before and after the British Raj, it is as much a portrait of a country as it is a story of two women. I could really feel the heat and dust of the title and the atmosphere and culture of India are well evoked.

The plot has two strands. One is set in 1923, and revolves around Olivia, the bored British wife of a civil servant working in India. She is drawn into the circle of the charismatic Nawab of Khatm, an Indian prince. The second strand is composed of diary entries by Olivia's step-grandaughter, who has travelled to India in the 1970s to explore her family's past. The two interweave nicely, with some parallels developing.

Despite its simplicity, this is a readable and enjoyable story which retains momentum. I was a bit disappointed with the ending which was unsatisfying - the story built to a climax only to fizzle out.
I felt that it rather let down the rest of the writing. But it was certainly an intimate portrait both of India and of human nature in general, and explored some of the issues around colonialism in a gentle but probing way. I would certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in India, but not to those who prefer books with lots of action.
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This is a well-written book that explores Anglo-Indian relations through the power of romance. Set in two distinct eras, colonial India of the nineteen twenties, during the time of the Raj, and the independent, freewheeling India of the seventies, during the time when India was a mecca for disenfranchised youth, it tells the story of two women.
One story is that of Olivia, the wife of a minor district official in colonial India, who in 1923 caused great scandal by running off with the Nawab, a local Indian prince. Divorced by her husband, Douglas, for this scandalous transgression, Olivia remains in India, while Douglas remarries. The second story is that of the narrator, a descendant of Douglas and his second wife. During the nineteen seventies, fascinated by the story of the now deceased Olivia, she goes to India, visiting those locations where Olivia had lived and those which would have been a part of her existence at the time. As did Olivia, she falls under India's spell. As did Olivia, she, too, has an Anglo-Indian love affair, and picks up where Olivia left off, giving the reader a powerful sense of de-ja vu.
The book is a beguiling story of two women from two different generations who come under the spell of India. The book is evocative of British colonial India, as well as of India of the nineteen seventies. During both eras, Anglo-Indian relations are pivotal to the budding romances. The book is evocative of the rhythms of Indian life in all its richness and tumultuousness, as well as its lingering poverty and superstitions. It is redolent of a time gone by and hopeful of what is to come. It is also an interesting dichotomy of the good and bad in both cultures, Anglo and Indian, and the influence that both cultures have on these two women, who are so different, yet so alike.
This is a book that whets the appetite, leaving the reader wanting more than the author is prepared to give. It is, nonetheless, a book well worth reading. The book was also made into a Merchant Ivory film starring Julie Christie and Greta Scacchi.
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on 16 February 1998
"Heat and Dust" rarely evoked the images of either of these two things for me.... Perhaps it was such a richly human novel concentrating most centrally on the feelings of women and their problems at two different moments in Indian history that I was more caught up in the drama of its characters than in the Indian landscape. Heat and Dust is not a dry novel. I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the shared story between Olivia, the young woman from the 1920's, and the unnamed young woman of the 1970's who is the granddaughter of Olivia's British husband. The parallels between their lives are beautifully set aside one another, while at the same time, using the two women as a guide, we can see how India and the lives of women around the world have changed in the short span of fifty years. It is interesting to note how Ruth Prawer Jhabwala manages to show this huge contrast using the lives of two white English women as her instrument. If you are looking for a complex saga, this is not your type of novel, because "Heat and Dust" is quite simple and straightforward, but I think it is an interesting pair of stories for both women and men who are interested in India and interested in how choices can affect our lives. It is mind-boggling for me to think how different two women's lives can be due to the simple fact that their dates of birth are a few decades apart, but in "Heat and Dust" we can see that this seemingly simple factor changed the courses of millions of lives, while for others the years change little or nothing at all. Enjoy reading!
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This is a well written book that explores Anglo-Indian relations through the power of romance. Set in two distinct eras, colonial India of the nineteen twenties, during the time of the Raj, and the independent, freewheeling India of the nineteen seventies, during the time when India was a mecca for disenfranchised youth, it tells the story of two women.
One story is that of Olivia, the wife of a minor district official in colonial India, who in 1923 caused great scandal by running off with the Nawab, a local Indian prince. Divorced by her husband, Douglas, for this scandalous transgression, Olivia remains in India, while Douglas remarries.
The second story is that of the narrator, a descendant of Douglas and his second wife. During the nineteen seventies, fascinated by the story of the now deceased Olivia, she goes to India, visiting those locations where Olivia had lived and those which would have been a part of her existence at the time. As did Olivia, she falls under India's spell. As did Olivia, she, too, has an Anglo-Indian love affair, and picks up where Olivia left off, giving the reader a powerful sense of de-ja vu.
The book is a beguiling story of two women from two different generations who come under the spell of India. The book is evocative of British colonial India, as well as of India of the nineteen seventies. During both eras, Anglo-Indian relations are pivotal to the budding romances. The book is evocative of the rythyms of Indian life in all its richness and tumultuousness, as well as its lingering poverty and superstitions. It is redolent of a time gone by and hopeful of what is to come. It is also an interesting dichotomy of the good and bad in both cultures, Anglo and Indian, and the influence that both cultures have on these two women, who are so different, yet so alike.
This is a book that whets the appetite, leaving the reader wanting more than the author is prepared to give. It is, nonetheless, a book well worth reading. The book was also made into a Merchant Ivory film starring Julie Christie and Greta Scacchi.
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VINE VOICEon 9 August 2012
India figures several times in Booker-winning novels. Moreover, 'Heat and Dust' is one of three from the 1970s set in that country, all of which focus on Britons living there. In this one, a present-day (1975) visitor relates a story of her forbears from 1923 in between a commentary on her own activities.

We learn at the start that the character at the centre of the earlier story is Olivia, the bored wife of Douglas, a not totally unlikeable but mostly stiff-upper-lip civil servant stationed there. We are also told broadly what the outcome of that story is to be, but not the why. There are parallels in the tales of both women while in India, but against contrasting backgrounds. Olivia acts against the grain of British attitudes, destructively attracted to the young, handsome and manipulative local Nawab. The narrator, on the other hand, is manipulated by a rather less powerful English character, Chid, while simultaneously enjoying a more level relationship with a local clerk.

Ultimately, the main theme is the effect India has on visitors and natives alike. Beautifully told, it is one of the more readable Booker-winning novels, mostly sad but often amusing.
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on 12 November 2011
There are two parallel stories running throughout `Heat and Dust'. In 1923 we have Olivia who, knewly married, moves to India when her husband Douglas gets a job there working for the British Government. Whilst there she meets the local ruling Nawab, a prince, which leads to (and this isn't spoiling the story, we know this very quickly) an affair and her desertion. Fifty years later, after hearing of her grandfathers first wife who disappeared, we meet an unnamed woman who wants to find out more about this mysterious Olivia and just what happened to her after she seemingly vanished and starts to follow her trail.

What is so interesting about the book is how the events of both women start to mirror each other yet at the same time are completely polar experiences. They are both in the region of Khatm and yet, with the time between them, they seem like very separate worlds and ones that in each case Jhabvala sets the atmosphere incredibly. The world Olivia inhabits is one of lavishness, to the point of being spoiled, she has lots of money and often bored, verging on miserable, with either too much time on her hands of being forced into `socialising' with other expat wives like the matronly Mrs Crawford and Mrs Minnies, women she doesn't like and who don't really like her. It is a world that bares almost no relation to the horrors her husband Douglas sees which the Nawab accepts which Jhabvala gives us occasional shocking glimpses of.

Her step-granddaughter (which seems an odd title as they never met) however inhabits the poorer, if slightly more developed, Satipur. There is the thrill of the new world and also the mystery of piecing this woman and her scandal together. It's a world of community, the relationship between her, her landlord Inder Lal and his wife, who people believe is possessed by spirits when we could see she has epilepsy, Ritu, also adds a whole new dimension to the novel. This is the world of the `heat and dust' that we are promised from the books title, it's a foreign, exotic and occasionally scary world, yet she throws herself into the life that greets her, albeit after having to get somewhat accustomed to it.

There is a lot of mystery and often some tragedy in `Heat and Dust', yet there is also some bright humour there too, often Jhabvala mixes them at the same time, bittersweet moments or a laugh that casts a dark show. A section in the book where the unnamed narrator takes on an almost obligatory relationship with a fellow Englishman, Chid, who has converted and in doing so seems to have developed a rapacious sex drive had me laughing a lot. Jhabvala wants to add some lighter notes in a world where poverty and lepers are rife, after all for some this is the day to day and it has happy moments. In the case of Olivia's story line we have her gossiping with the leech-like Harry, a man who has somehow got into the pocket of the Nawab which itself then adds a dark undertone to how manipilative this ruler can be and how controlling.

I thought `Heat and Dust' was a marvellous book, I should add it won the Booker in 1975 - a controversial year. It is a book that is about a country at two very different points in time, the tale of failed marriage, the mysteries of people and love in the unlikeliest of places. Many writers would have needed to write a huge novel to tell this tale, instead what we have is a book you can get lost in for a single sitting and be rewarded beyond expectation. Its an epic distilled in a way, if thats not a cliche. That to me shows the power of Jhabvala's wonderful prose. I thought it was marvellous. It shocked me it's not been in print for some time, along with a lot of the authors other work (which I am keen to read), however it's coming out through Abacus in October, I'd advise you get a copy.
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on 1 December 2006
Please ignore the poor review...the "author" must have got bored playing with their rattle and tried to read this.

Purchased this book on a trip round India in the 90s......what a find...it captured the essence of a country and a time.

I recommend you ration the pages so it lasts longer.
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This short novel tells the story of two women, in two different era's. First there is the spoiled and unhappy Oliva, in 1923 colonial India, who outrages society by having an affair with the local Nawab. Olivia's husband Douglas divorces her and remarries. In the 1970's, his granddaughter arrives in India to revisit the places her family once lived and to try to discover the truth about the scandal that surrounded her grandfather's first wife.

There are a great deal of parallel events that occur during this novel; allowing you to see how attitudes have changed over the years. Olivia is a young woman who is simply bored with the life she finds herself leading - with her respectable neighbours, dull dinner parties and absent husband. The Nawab is looked upon with some contempt by Douglas and the other men in the English community. "Only a very little prince..." as his friend Harry remarks, he is regarded as "the worst type of ruler - the worst type of Indian - you can have," by Douglas. Living apart from his wife, dissatisfied and also bored, events throw him and Olivia together with disastrous consequences.

Although this is a short read, it really packs an emotional punch and it is beautifully written. Both the story of Oliva and that of her step-granddaughter almost merge, as you find yourself changing viewpoints with an ease that belies the skill of the author. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died at the age of 85 this year (2013) but her work stands the test of time and this 1975 Booker winning novel will remain a classic.
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on 17 August 2001
Please don't be misled by the review below. Few novels are as truly compelling as HEAT AND DUST. I devoured it in an afternoon - it is every bit as heady and exotic as the title implies. Moreover, the characters are vividly written and very human.
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on 2 April 2013
This is my favourite 'colonial' novel set in India from all the Booker Prize novels set in India (The God Of Small Things being the ultimate Indian booker prize winner by Arundhati Roy). It's such a pleasure to read and quite short so you can get through it in a weekend. I just re-read it whilst travelling in India on my own and found it to be the perfect companion for a female traveller. It's non just about the liberation of India but the liberation of women. The prose is easy-to-read but stunning in parts, a real must read.
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