Cover image for At the end of the century
Title:
At the end of the century
ISBN:
9781640091375
Edition:
First Counterpoint hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
©2017

Berkeley, California : Counterpoint, 2018.
Physical Description:
439 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published in Great Britain in 2017 by Little, Brown.
Contents:
A loss of faith -- Widow -- A spiritual call -- Miss Sahib -- A course of English studies -- An experience of India -- Two more under the Indian sun -- Desecration -- Expiation -- Great expectations -- Two muses -- Ménage -- A choice of heritage -- A lovesong for India -- Pagans -- At the end of the century -- Judge's will.
Summary:
Over the course of her glittering literary career, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote some of the most wonderful novels of the twentieth century and screenplays to some of the most beloved films - but she was also a master of the short story form. This stunning new collection brings together the jewels in the crown of her writing: it is a showcase of astonishing storytelling power.
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On Order

Summary

Summary

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

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 andFrankie 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.

"The storiesâe*all of them elegantly plotted and unsentimental, with an addictive, told-over-tea qualityâe*are largely character studies of people isolated, often tragically, by custom or self-delusion . . . Vivid, unsparing portraits are leavened with the kind of humanizing moments that evoke a total world within their compression." âe*Megan O'Grady, The New York Times Book Review


Author Notes

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in Cologne, Germany on May 7, 1927. She had to emigrate to England in 1939 with her family because of their Jewish faith. She earned a degree in English literature at London University. In 1951, she married an Indian architect, moved to India and raised three daughters.

She began writing in 1955 and has written a dozen novels. Several novels were set in India such as The Nature of Passion, Esmond in India, Travelers and The Householder, which was also her first motion picture project. Shakespeare Wallah was her first collaboration on an original project. She also wrote screenplays such as Roseland and Jefferson in Paris. Her other fiction works included In Search of Love and Beauty, Three Continents, Poet and Dancer, Shards of Memory, East into Upper East and My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past.

She won numerous awards including Britain's Booker Prize for her novel Heat and Dust in 1975, the BAFTA award for Best Screenplay for the filmed adaptation of Heat and Dust in 1984, an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room With a View in 1986, the Best Screenplay Award from the New York Film Critics Circle for Mr. & Mrs. Bridge in 1990, an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Howards, the MacArthur Foundation Award in 1984 and the Writers Guild of America's Screen Laurel Award in 1994. She died on April 3, 2013 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* A young German Jewish refugee in England in the 1940s, a resident of India for two dozen years, and a New Yorker from the mid-1970s until her death in 2013, Jhabvala triangulated her three adopted cultures in the 17 enthralling stories gathered in this sterling retrospective collection. This triad is also explored in the many startling ménage-à-trois variations she dramatizes with lyric sensitivity and steely irony. In A Course of English Studies (1968), a blindly romantic Indian student attending university in England wreaks havoc on a professor's life. An Experience of India (1971) portrays an expat woman who precipitously wanders alone throughout India, open to any adventure, while the true parenthood of a girl of allegedly English and Indian descent is subtly acknowledged in A Choice of Heritage (2003). The author of 20 books with a Booker Prize and two Oscars (the latter, thanks to her screenplay work with the Merchant and Ivory producer-director duo), Jhabvala was a spellbinding short story writer of fluid empathy, exceptional cross-cultural insight, and abiding respect for unconventional love. Radiantly introduced by Anita Desai (The Artist of Disappearance, 2011), for whom Jhabvala was an essential mentor, this is a richly captivating, revelatory, and important collection.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

perhaps No author has made more art of dispossession than Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The author of a dozen novels and twice as many screenplays - she's the only person to have won both the Booker Prize (for her eighth and best-known novel, "Heat and Dust") and an Academy Award (twice, for best adapted screenplay) - Jhabvala was 12 when she fled Nazi Germany with her family in 1939. After the war, when her father learned the fate of the relatives left behind, he killed himself. But even before her "disinheritance," as she would later call these fundamental losses, Jhabvala was writing stories - first in German, and after they had settled in London, in English. She was studying English literature when she met Cyrus Jhabvala, an architect, and in 1951, they married and moved to Delhi. India was her home and subject until 1975, when she moved to New York's Upper East Side, buying an apartment near her friends and creative partners, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, as her career as a screenwriter flourished. There, as if closing a circle, she wrote fiction inspired by the European emigres she met, people who understood what it meant to be homesick for a way of life that no longer existed. In a 1979 lecture, Jhabvala described herself as "blown about from country to country, culture to culture," a "cuckoo forever insinuating itself into other's nests." In this country, she's best known as the screenwriting talent behind so many Merchant-Ivory films, among them the sumptuous, Oscar-winning adaptations of E. M. Forster's "A Room With a View" and "Howards End" (a film of her own novel "The Householder" was their first collaboration). Her name brings to mind Edwardian corset dresses and Julian Sands in a meltingly lit field of poppies - though her asperity and sense of moral stakes, so in tune with Forster's, were the crisp counterpoint to all that romance. These weren't merely costume dramas or comedies of manners, but struggles for the souls of women. Forster's great subject, the pull of individual passions against stifling social conformity, the old order against the new - "the unlovely chaos that lies between obedience and freedom," as he once put it - is also the through-line in Jhabvala's wryly tender early stories and novels. Raising three daughters in Delhi, she was well situated to observe Indian society post-independence, with its Westernizing, marriage-minded middle class - and, at the same time, to apply her well-developed irony to the many European seekers of the 1960s she encountered, people for whom India was a semi-mythical destination, a warm, sensuous alternative to their own lumpen postwar continent, as it was for Jhabvala herself for a time. Her work anticipates a world of displaced people, where, as the half-British, half-Indian narrator of one of her stories puts it, everyone is "moving more freely" as "refugees or emigrants or just out of restless curiosity" and where there are "at least two generations of people in whom several kinds of heritage are combined." A posthumous new collection of selected short fiction, "At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala," showcases her darker cadences. The stories - all of them elegantly plotted and unsentimental, with an addictive, told-over-tea quality - are largely character studies of people isolated, often tragically, by custom or self-delusion. In "The Widow," a woman in her prime, Durga, finds herself surrounded by grasping relatives following the death of her much older, impotent husband, who leaves her with a fine house and a sense that "somehow, somewhere, she has been shortchanged." Disastrously, her dormant maternal feelings - mingling with erotic longings - are awakened by her tenant's teenage son. "Expiation" movingly depicts a cloth merchant's Job-like devotion to his prodigal younger brother, who rapes and murders an upper-class schoolboy, stealing his roller skates. In "Desecration," a privileged young bride, Sofia, pursues a debasing affair with a thuggish local official. These vivid, unsparing portraits are leavened with the kind of humanizing moments that evoke a total world within their compression, as when the cloth merchant delivers last rites to his brother or when Sofia realizes that the person who knows her best is the chauffeur. In such moments, one feels very far from that poppy field. In contrast, Jhabvala's stories about Westerners, many of them blank young women who fall prey to burning-eyed gurus or other spiritual grifters, tend to blur. Their pursuit of borrowed meaning - "an Indian experience" - is styled as farce, the satire too on the nose: One wan disciple urges another to submit to "the beauty of surrender, of not having a will and not having thoughts of your own." The authorial disdain is palpable, as is, perhaps, an echo of Jhabvala's own outgrown illusions. When she does deviate slightly from this template, it can be tantalizing: In "Two More Under the Indian Sun," a sympathetic young Englishwoman happily married to an Indian man pays a social call on her widowed older friend, a congenial busybody who staves off loneliness with meditation workshops, charitable causes and "holy men from the Himalayas." One longs to revisit the younger woman, in whom one detects a germinating seed of ambivalence, in middle age. After two decades, Jhabvala felt ill at ease living in material comfort in India, describing her adopted country as "a great animal of poverty and backwardness," and writing, in a rare autobiographical essay, of the mercurial intensity of her feelings for it - "I think of myself as strapped to a wheel that goes round and round and sometimes I'm up and sometimes I'm down." Contemporary readers might wish for a memoir in this vein, a less oblique take. The closest she seems to have come was her 2004 story collection, "My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past," which she describes as "alternative destinies" - one of which, "Menage," in which a writer looks back on a love triangle involving her mother and aunt, is included in this book. But Jhabvala thrived in the more densely screened confessional of fiction. If her stories have fallen slightly out of fashion, it may be in some part because of this resistance to the soul laid bare. Her characters have little interiority or agency; the fates they run up against tend to feel inexorable, especially in her later stories, in which the ironic distance cools into cynicism. Certain types - charlatans, wastrels and freeloaders, many of them Indian - accumulate troublingly, as does the kind of servant who pines for the good old days when they wore white gloves to serve dinner. Exploitation is a constant theme, and the psychopathology of power and domination: She seemed to have even less confidence than Forster in the possibility of true connection between colonizer and colonized. In later stories, after Jhabvala had moved to New York, the gurus morph into another type of charming fraud: the male creative "genius" surrounded by female acolytes. She would have had no end of material today. Jhabvala's stories are also, of course, unfashionable for another reason: their unabashed ventriloquizing of another culture, an inhabiting of India and Indians that a contemporary author might take pains to artistically justify, all the more so now that our bookshelves are filled with Indian authors writing in English. But this is what surely gives Jhabvala's work its rare gleam: the undeceived clarity of the eternal outsider, immersed yet apart. In the collection's final story, "The Judge's Will" - published in The New Yorker 10 days before her death - she returns to India with a setup worthy of Singer or Chekhov: A dying judge reveals to his wife his wish to provide for his mistress after his death. (In a move Jhabvala might have appreciated, the story is being transplanted to Chicago for a film written by James Ivory and directed by Alexander Payne.) In a few pages, Jhabvala executes a deft reversal of marital power, touching, along the way, on sex and class, duty and desire - and the surprise, across all barriers, of empathy. Jhabvala once described herself as 'blown about from country to country, culture to culture.' MEGAN O'GRADY is a writer at large at T: The New York Times Style Magazine and a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Library Journal Review

Jhabvala (1927-2013) is perhaps best known for collaborating with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant on their Oscar-winning films, but the German-born author also won the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975. This collection, which carries an introduction by novelist Anita Desai, offers 17 stories dating from 1963 to 2013. Jhabvala is renowned for her tales of life in India, but this collection also includes stories set in Europe and America. The characters in these "Western" pieces are mostly upper-class, artistic types in places such as New York and Los Angeles who seem pallid and interchangeable next to her more memorable Indian characters. The Indians portrayed in such stories as "Expiation" and "The Widow" are unforgettable. Jhabvala is especially observant on the lives of Westerners in India. Like Paul Scott in The Raj Quartet, Jhavbala reveals how certain Britons living in India slowly become unhinged owing to culture shock. Impressionable young women fall under the spell of a swami or, as in "An Experience of India," just fall apart. VERDICT Essential reading for anyone who enjoys fiction about India, especially when the stories come from the pen of a master.-Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.