by Nadine Gordimer
Kirkus Jhabvala's eighth novel intertwines two stories of two Indias over half a century, and what the book is really about is the social sea change that separates the lifestyle of the narrator, as recorded in her journal, from that of her grandfather's first wife, Olivia, whose story the modern heroine is pursuing through the old letters she carries with her. Olivia comes to India as a young administrator's bride in 1923. Isolated and bored in her European-style bower, she drifts into an affair with a charming but bankrupt prince and after aborting his child, remains in a mountain exile alone there for the rest of her life. Olivia's story is swoony and fatalistic, overpowering as the heat and the dust, but although her inheritor's account has certain parallels, the comedown into contemporary mores and morals makes plain the trade-off that progress has entailed. Instead of a dashing husband, she has an encounter with one of those exploitative nirvana-seekers--this one with a flat Midlands accent that makes his prayer ludicrous. No prince for her either: she becomes pregnant by a meek clerk. Unlike Olivia, she lives amid the lepers, cripples and beggars that populate the streets. The splendor that was has all decayed, and one can't help feeling nostalgic for the Olivias--weak, rotten Olivia destroyed by the exotic East--in comparison to the efficient young woman of today, with her sleeping bag, her rented spaces and rented lovers. An impressive juxtaposition. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.