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Heat and Dust

3.51 of 5 stars 3.51  ·  rating details  ·  4,389 ratings  ·  185 reviews
A profound and powerful novel, winner of the Booker Prize
Set in colonial India during the 1920s, Heat and Dust tells the story of Olivia, a beautiful woman suffocated by the propriety and social constraints of her position as the wife of an important English civil servant. Longing for passion and independence, Olivia is drawn into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian pri
Paperback, 190 pages
Published April 16th 1999 by Counterpoint (first published 1975)
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Life of Pi by Yann MartelThe God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroMidnight's Children by Salman RushdieThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Booker Prize Winners
37th out of 49 books — 1,325 voters
The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe White Tiger by Aravind AdigaMidnight's Children by Salman RushdieThe Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Best Indian Books
89th out of 540 books — 1,558 voters

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Community Reviews

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3.5 stars
Winner of the Booker Prize in 1975; this is actually quite good. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is an interesting character; her parents fled the Nazis in the late 1930s and she lost many family members in the Holocaust. She lived initially in Britain and then married an Indian architect and moved to India in 1951. She remained there until the 1970s when she moved to the US where she continued her already creative relationship with the Merchant Ivory team and had a hand in a great many of their f
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
1975 Booker

An excellent, quick read that jumps back and forth in time between 1923 and 1970s India, concentrating on the lives of the wife of a British official in 1923 and her husband's granddaughter in the 1970s.
Книга, която не позволява да я оставиш до последната страница, да заспиш или да мислиш за друго. Кратка, красиво написана, проследяваща паралелно живота на две жени, които Индия белязва завинаги и ги превръща в авантюристки с трудно обяснимо понякога поведение.
"Индия винаги намира слабото ти място и цели в него."
Едната е отегчена, скучаеща съпруга на високопоставен английски служител, другата – негова внучка от втория му брак, търсеща истината за старателно премълчаваната и скандална за времето
Aban (Aby)
In this short novel the reader follows the stories of two English women: the narrator whose name is never revealed and Olivia, her step-grandmother. Set in 1923 during Colonial times and fifty years later in Independent India, the novel follows the narrator's attempt to trace Olivia's life: her dissatisfaction with being an administrator's wife and her attraction to an Indian ruler who offered her an escape from it. Both women become pregnant and, although the choices they make are different, th ...more
Courtney H.
This is definitely one of my least favorite Bookers. It was dull, it was pretentious, and the main character was, in the words of Rizzo, a total drag. Which might have been somewhat forgivable if it didn't have such a promising start. Because Jhabvala is clearly a good writer, and though the book is in journal form -- not usually my favorite -- it paces nicely and the writing has a nice kind of precision to it (though somewhat pretentious, as mentioned before). More importantly, she introduces a ...more
Helen Kitson
"All the graves are in very bad condition - weed-choked, and stripped of whatever marble and railings could be removed. It is strange how, once graves are broken and overgrown in this way, then the people in them are truly dead. The Indian Christian graves at the front of the cemetery, which are still kept up by relatives, seem by contrast strangely alive, contemporary." (from Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala)

A slim novel, first published in 1975, which slips between the lives of Olivia, who
It was a cool look into what India was like post-British colonialism. You got to see parallels in today's, or 1970's at least, Indian society too, the book kind of shows that India has taken old British Imperialism from their past and taken it over for their own particular ways of living.
The author seems to think Indian culture will *always* change a person entering it, whether for the person's better or worse, and demonstrates this in the exact same story through a woman and her great-great aun
Erika S
A decent book. It actually brought me to tears in one particular instance:

"Maji sat down under a tree and took the old woman's head in her lap. She stroked it with her thick peasant hands and looked down into the dying face. Suddenly the old woman smiled, her toothless mouth opened with the same recognition as a baby's. Were her eyes not yet sightless--could she see Maji looking down at her? Or did she only feel her love and tenderness? Whatever it was, that smile seemed like a miracle to me" (1
Made it halfway through when I concluded that this well written but very depressing story was not going to end well for anyone. Had I continued I would have been an angry, frustrated mess looking for my time back. I simply can’t stand it when character development weakens rather than grows as the story moves along. I don’t have the time to read about characters disintegrating into absurdity, no matter how prettily they are written or historical context taken into account.

For instance, in this c
It took less than a day to read this - 180 pages long and easy to read - but it's a rich and fruitful book. It comprises two stories in parallel: the tale of Olivia who abandons her British husband when she goes to India; and of her un-named relative who goes to Satipur some fifty years later to solve the mystery of what became of Olivia. She ends up becoming 'seduced' by India too.

Olivia is naive but adventurous, and she doesn't like the other British wives and their disdain for Indian religion
It was very engaging to begin with. She set the scene beautifully and moved effortlessly between the story of the narrator and her step-grandmother. The description of a poor little town in colonial India and its evolution into a squalid modern day small town is also quite vivid, although a bit depressing. Some of the character descriptions are quite good, but some seem a bit stereotypical, like the British boy who has become a 'sadhu'. However, one has to be fair given that she is obviously wri ...more
In your teens and 20s you are impatient to leave your roots and fly away to explore a whole new world, the charm of new, and in your 30s or 40s you think of going deeper and deeper to dig your roots, the hidden treasures, the legacy, the pas, the charm of old, even if it lies in Heat and Dust.

This is what this book stands for, when a young woman, goes back to India to explore her family's ties and the underlying gossips or truth for that matter. She is different and she chooses a different life

"Heat and Dust" and Gossip From The Forest by Thomas Keneally were the only two books shortlisted in 1975 and there was some debate about whether the latter was really a novel at all (as there was with Schindler's Ark).

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had been living in India for about twenty years when she wrote this book and she captures its mesmerising effect on outsiders and its heat and dust very well. The author makes an attempt to show how attitudes have changed between the two time periods, in t
Christian Engler
After finishing Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's 1975 Booker-Prize winning novel set in India during the British Raj, I will admit, I was puzzled at the degree of kudos that this most mediocre novel received. To say that the book was lackluster in its conveyance of colonialism in India is barely hitting the mark in its accuracy. And to put it on the same shelf as A Passage to India is completely laughable, thus illustrating once again that overzealous literary critics are only too eager to press forth ont ...more
Shonna Froebel
This novel won the Booker Prize in 1975. It has two story lines. One occurs in 1923 in colonial India in the town of Satipur and the nearby Khatm. The other occurs in the present (1970s) also in Satipur.
In 1923, Olivia has come to join her new husband Douglas who works as an assistant commissioner. During one social event Olivia meets the Nawab of Khatm and becomes fascinated with him, and the Nawab begins to visit her regularly and send his car for her to come and visit him. Staying with the Na
There remains some proof of why Heat and Dust, won the Booker Prize. Jhabvala’s incisive and succinct writing style stands the test of time. However, it has become so self-evident that the generational gap seems blinded to why Jhabvala won. Heat and Dust was a book that offered nuanced cross-cultural truths, about women, sexuality, and appearances of hierarchical status/caste.

Jhabvala wrote about these issues with a delicate forthrightness:


-“But then both of them had decided that I had
I've decided that Pulitzer Prize winners are often not good reads if I want to be entertained by something enjoyable. Not so with this book. In addition to keeping me turning pages, I also enjoyed juxtaposing the narrator's life with that of her subject, and contemplating the meaning of why we never learned the narrator's name.
Alaina (Bibliophilic Barista)
Rating 2.5/5

I'm still unsure how I feel about this book. It was interesting at times, and at others I felt like I just wanted it to be over; but once I reached the end I wasn't sure if I felt like there needed to be a bit more to give the story closure or not. That partly may be because I felt Olivia's story went as far as it could have gone and stayed interesting, but the narrators story just felt like it ended abruptly.

In the beginning the characters were a little confusing because there were
I really like books that are stories that contain secondary stories. This book gave me views of two different cultures: Indian and colonial Britain. Both heroines were interesting women.
2.5 stars

Did I like the novel, mostly yes, except that it felt hurried, especially
the end. There is nothing exceptional about the story of Olivia, the
wife of a civil servant, Douglas, who is falling for the small-town
Nawaab. Olivia seemed naive and Nawaab was smart and charming, quite a deadly
combination. And between the two of them, we have the moral and upright
Douglas. Sometimes you felt bad for Olivia and at times you could only be
angry at her for being so foolish. Apart from Douglas, it was
I picked this book because I like stories set in India back in the 1920's era. Very interesting how the two stories wove around eachother. I had to go back through and re-read some parts at the end just to make sure I didn't miss anything! This book was kind of haunting. India must have been a rough place for the wives of the British men who worked there...not really much for them to do, plus being stuck in a place where the climate alone would be enough to drive a person to their breaking point ...more
Oct 23, 2007 Amanda rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes to read about India
Shelves: readandenjoyed
What a beautiful book! Quick read and quite enjoyable.
Can't believe that this book was Man Booker prize winner of 1975. Found nothing incredible. Was an okayish sort of book, a bit dragging at times, but readable. Olivia, the central figure is a lady married to a British working in minor administrative capacity in Colonial India. She is slightly bored and is introduced to the Nawab, a dashing hero in her eyes. The Nawab has many faults, including a liking for males as well as females, greed and self-indulgence, but Olivia is slowly drawn towards hi ...more
Short but so well done.
Vaibhav Anand
I must say I have not read too many Booker Prize winning books. In fact, not more than one. The only Booker Prize winning book I have ever read is Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of small things’ which blew my mind away. That book was a Booker and a half, and then some more.

I was drawn into Jhabwala’s world with a mesmerizingly beautiful movie called ‘The Householder’. Starring Shashi Kapoor, this black and white movie made in 1963 is beautifully timeless yet sepia toned in a way that left me nostalgic, ev
I opened Heat and Dust hoping that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's 1975 Man Booker Prize winning novel would provide a fresh take on a theme explored by Paul Scott in The Jewel in the Crown (the first book in his Raj Quartet series) and of course that classic of the cultural divide; E M Forster's A Passage to India.

In many of the tributes written about Jhabvala on her death in April 2013, she was described as a "cold-eyed observer of people and places" and a writer whose status as a non-native inhabitant
[This review originally appeared on my blog at - let me know if you would like to submit your reviews]

Doesn’t the name say it all? Heat and Dust.

A good work of ‘colonial fiction’ takes us back in time to a place where Europeans try and naturalise themselves into a foreign land. It captures the magic, the divide, the thrill of a new land; a sense of ownership and entitlement that always feels misplaced from our happy vantage point in the future. And many
Elliot Ratzman
A gentle colonial romance—not much big drama happens, except for two unexpected inter-ethnic pregnancies. The author, Ruth Prawer Jhavada, won the 1975 Booker Prize for this story of two independent women in India fifty years apart. In 1923, Olivia is a new bride to a colonial administrator in India. She flouts conventions by chumming up to the local potentate while her husband is out being a colonial administrator. The local royal has an in-house gay British friend, lots of Western cars, and lo ...more
Juanita Rice
Hmm: 3 stars, though that's too generous for my feeling about it after the fact. This is in some ways a pale rerun of A Passage to India. Although written by a woman who married a Parsi and lived for some time in India, Heat and Dust is an outsider's view of India and its people; the main characters, with whom the novel somewhat identifies, are a newly married British couple in the years of the Raj, i.e., British rule. We are privy to colonial administrators who believe one must hold a hard line ...more
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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, CBE is a Booker prize-winning novelist, short story writer, and two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter. She is perhaps best known for her long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions, made up of director James Ivory and the late producer Ismail Merchant. Their films won six Academy Awards.

She fled Cologne with her family in 1939 and lived through the London Blitz.
More about Ruth Prawer Jhabvala...
Out of India: Selected Stories The Householder A Backward Place Esmond In India East Into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi

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