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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

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Last month, while reading the ever-elegant obituaries in The Economist, I ran across RPJ's. I knew the name through the Merchant/Ivory movies, but she was a writer-writer as well as screen-writer. She wrote over a dozen novels, with a "heroine [who] was almost always herself: trapped in a cross-cultural marriage, tipping between the old world and the new, observing from the outside some bewildering place." As so often happens, the next day I stumbled on a mention of her in the journals of the great Leo Lerman, who knew everyone, and enjoyed the rare gift of description in a paragraph.

"Ruth Prawer Jhabvala came to lunch (as did James Ivory) with us in the Rose Room of the Algonquin. She was one of the few writers I have been curious to be with. I was not disappointed. She is more Indian than Polish—although the Polish Jew is there—a sort of allusive atmosphere. Ruth P.J. is very small (or small seeming), very quiet—her special quiet, running smoothly over submerged pebbles and rocks and shards of laughter. She said she went nowhere, did nothing save be at home, take care of the family, and write. When I said that we thought of her always at parties gathering material for her comedies of manners, she answered: 'One party goes a long way!' She did say that years ago she had gone out a lot. We liked her deeply."

Perhaps I'll start with Heat and Dust, which won the Booker Prize in 1975. It must be holding its own, for there are 19 holds on 2 copies. Maybe in the meantime read her last story to appear in The New Yorker, The Judges's Will, (March 25, 2013—thank you New Yorker)? Any suggestions?

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