Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (2004)
Publisher: John Murray
Edition: Paperback 2005
Category: Contemporary Fiction
How would someone be if he/she has nine possible lives? On this book Jhabvala wrote of might have become of her. She travelled across continents from Europe to America to India, to places that were familiar to her. The locations were in New York, London and India (mostly Delhi) around 1940s and some periods after that. Each chapter is telling a different life with the consistent presence of “I” as narrator and the main character. The stories were taken form the author’s own that she said “could have been in myself, and sometimes, to some extent, was” (p.vii). Ruth Jhabvala was born in Germany to a Polish-Jewish father and German-Jewish mother. Her family fled the Nazis in 1939 (Wikipedia, nd).
All nine lives shared similarity of the backgroud of “I” who came from a German-Jewish family that refuged to (either) America or England. In most of the stories “I” grew up in a modest middle-class European family with good education and sufficient funds to provide her necessities and travels (except on Refuge in London). Instead of becoming what her parents had expected of her, “I” adopted the bohemian life-style (as an artist, a traveller), had a free living-style and pursued her hungers for definition of live and the presence of love, which usually led to journeys to India.
On each story “I” had a different focus role either as a friend, a daughter, a mistress, a mother, a grandmother, a niece, a lover or as a confidante. Despite of the many roles of “I”, all nine lives came to one centre, to “I” herself: the way she grew up, her family(ies), how she made decisions, treated family and others who came across her life, how she pursued her aspiration or helped those who had similar aspiration, and her longing for a spiritual guidance.
I somehow feel that although “I” never regretted her past, she wished she could have done more, perhaps better? Maybe that was why stories were created for “I” one after another, but somehow she would still end up in a similar situation where she left: unfinished and “still waiting”. I think it was because the same person who made the choices, the decisions. The surroundings were different but the inner-personality was simply the same.
Honestly, it is quite difficult to describe or summarise the book because those stories were very personal. I am afraid that my review will ruin the manifestations of “I” that belong to the author’s past lives (or what could have been hers) that are deepened with thoughts, imaginations, experiences and feelings that could only be gained through years of living.
This book suits mature readers. I recommend you to read the book and experience yourself the complexity and richness of her thoughts, which she tried to explain through “I”, a short, plump, rather shallow person, yet possess kindness and has the determination to achieve what she aspires.
The author received Booker Prize in 1975 for novel “Heat and Dust” and won 2 Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplays (“A room with a view”-1986 and “Howards End”-1993). In 1994 she was nominated for an Oscar for her adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” (merchantivory, nd; wikipedia, nd).