The beautiful, spoiled and bored Olivia, married to a civil servant, outrages society in the tiny, suffocating Indian town of Satipur by eloping with an Indian prince. This is her story and that of her step-granddaughter who, fifty years later, goes back to the heat, the dust and the squalor of the bazaars to solve the enigma of Olivia’s scandal.
Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was born on 7 May 1927 in Cologne in Germany to Jewish parents. After moving to India in 1951, she married an Indian architect. The couple lived in New Delhi, and had three daughters. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala began then to elaborate her experiences in India and wrote novels and tales on Indian subjects. She lived in Britain where her family took refuge in 1939 and became a British citizen. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died in her home in New York City, where she had moved in later life, on 3 April 2013 at the age of 85.
My thoughts: This fictional historical novel was on my bookshelf for over twenty years. I read it before Easter this year and I wondered how it was that I had forgotten it all these years…Anyway, I loved this powerful gem of 181 pages, a winner of the Booker Prize in 1975.
The story takes place in India in 1923 in the English community. The narrator, Olivia’s step-granddaughter, easily switches from the past to the present, to tell us the story of Olivia and to recount her own personal search for spirituality in India. One gets an insight into the culture, customs and difficulties encountered by expats or travellers in search of wisdom, peace and spirituality, as well as learning about the scandal that took place in the 1920’s concerning Olivia, the first wife of the narrator’s grandfather.
I loved the two worlds described in the book, but I preferred the story of the old era - its characters are picturesque.
The main character, Olivia is married to Douglas, a very educated, noble man who is a workaholic and is obviously incapable of understanding his wife’s needs. Olivia is very feminine, she loves playing the piano and reading, but often feels bored and is not enthusiastic towards the British community. At a dinner party, she meets the Nawab and gradually becomes attracted to him. The Nawab is the opposite of her husband Douglas. The Nawab is the prince of Khatm. He is both an exciting man and one who knows how to influence people to his advantage. He is a man with few noble values and, therefore, is disliked by the majority of the British community, with the exception of a very few people, such as Olivia and Harry, everyone’s best friend. The latter is a handsome homosexual, who is a helpful and sensitive person in whom Olivia confides.
To sum up, this is a wonderfully profound and pleasant read. In case you wonder, Olivia ends up leaving her husband for the promise of an exciting life with the Nawab...