Cover image for My nine lives : chapters of a possible past
My nine lives : chapters of a possible past
Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer, 1927-2013.
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Shoemaker & Hoard, [2004]

Physical Description:
viii, 277 pages ; 24 cm
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For her first novel in more than nine years, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has written a most unusual book in a career of distinctive and unique accomplishments. My Nine Lives is "Chapters of a Possible Past," as the subtitle declares. It is, as the author has commented, a book filled with "invented memories." Nine vignettes are linked to portray a rich life filled with searching, from London to Delhi, from Hollywood to New York. Each chapter gathers a different cast of characters, some new and some vaguely familiar, and the linked assembly is as exciting and illuminating as an artist's first show at a Soho gallery or a new play at the Studio Theater.

After seventeen books, now in her 77th year, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala takes on as her subject herself, the life she may have or may have wished to live. My Nine Lives is a moving and intriguing book of invention and memory.

Author Notes

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born in Cologne, Germany on May 7, 1927. She had to emigrate to England in 1939 with her family because of their Jewish faith. She earned a degree in English literature at London University. In 1951, she married an Indian architect, moved to India and raised three daughters.

She began writing in 1955 and has written a dozen novels. Several novels were set in India such as The Nature of Passion, Esmond in India, Travelers and The Householder, which was also her first motion picture project. Shakespeare Wallah was her first collaboration on an original project. She also wrote screenplays such as Roseland and Jefferson in Paris. Her other fiction works included In Search of Love and Beauty, Three Continents, Poet and Dancer, Shards of Memory, East into Upper East and My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past.

She won numerous awards including Britain's Booker Prize for her novel Heat and Dust in 1975, the BAFTA award for Best Screenplay for the filmed adaptation of Heat and Dust in 1984, an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room With a View in 1986, the Best Screenplay Award from the New York Film Critics Circle for Mr. & Mrs. Bridge in 1990, an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Howards, the MacArthur Foundation Award in 1984 and the Writers Guild of America's Screen Laurel Award in 1994. She died on April 3, 2013 at the age of 85.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Jhabvala is spellbinding, whether she's writing her celebrated fiction or Academy Award-winning screenplays, and she now presents nine splendid variations on nine women's lives that in some measure reflect key aspects of her own. Born in Germany to Polish parents,habvala escaped the Nazi terror, was educated in England, married an Indian architect, and lived in India. These experiences seem to fuel this book's startlingly fresh inquiries into displacement and cultural collisions. Buthabvala is also intrigued with epic love triangles, spiritual quests, the strange limbo great wealth can induce, creative individuals who are at once egotistical and irresistible, holy men, con artists, and saintly women. In episodes set in London, New York, and India, in both the humblest and most opulent of abodes, she portrays artists, philosophers, politicians, and alcoholics.habvala name-drops Chekhov, and this is no pretension given the grace of her spiraling plots, the depth of her psychology, the elegance of her humor, the subtly of her eroticism, and her masterfully concise descriptions of imperiled households, eccentric personalities, sexual enthrallment, unexpected alliances, and transcendent love. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

After 17 books thorny with existential and intellectual issues, Jhabvala has unleashed her imagination to rewrite her own past. In nine pieces of "autobiographical fiction" set in New York, London and India, septuagenarian Jhabvala imagines alternative paths her life might have taken. While the narrator of each story has a different given name, in an Apologia Jhabvala states that "the I of each chapter-is myself." The stories do not attempt to cover her life fully (her long career with Merchant and Ivory is never alluded to) nor do they reveal specific personal details. Instead, certain circumstances and psychological attitudes prevail. The narrator is usually an only child of a wealthy German-Jewish father who fled the Nazis and a beautiful, vain, erstwhile actress mother. Both parents assume that their daughter will become an intellectual. For these reasons and because of her own predilection for exile, the narrator has never fully assimilated anywhere. The narrator's interest in existential questions and in Eastern religion leads to spiritual quests to India, where she marries or finds a lover. A m?nage ? trois or ? quatre figures in nearly every story, as do marriages that do not survive the strain of relations with a third party. In a recurrent situation, a man willingly raises another man's child as his own. The habits of creative geniuses-a pianist, an artist, a philosopher-animate some plots. A strain of sadness is pervasive, as is the assumption that one's fate cannot be changed. Though these similarities become apparent as one reads the collection, each story is sinewy with compressed emotion and intellectual energy, as well as the poignancy of a thwarted search for love. Each can stand on its own as a finely crafted example of an accomplished storyteller's art. Pen-and-ink drawings by C.S.H. Jhabvala introduce each chapter. (June 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In her 18th book, the first in nine years, award-winning screenwriter Jhabvala (e.g., A Room with a View, The Remains of the Day) offers an unusual take on autobiographical fiction, turning the lens upon herself in a series of self-described invented memories. Each of the nine chapters presents a possible past for its first-person narrator. The familial relationships depicted vary as much as the locales, spanning relations between parents, siblings, lovers, or husbands in settings as far-reaching as England, India, and the United States. The narrators are always women, and each describes the twists, turns, pitfalls, and reunions in her life in the same strong and unapologetic voice, creating a unifying theme of personal quest that flows from chapter to chapter. An enjoyable read that could make an intriguing book club choice; highly recommended in libraries where fiction in a foreign setting or Merchant-Ivory films are popular.-Leann Isaac, Jameson Health Syst., New Castle, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Apologia: These chapters are potentially autobiographical: even when something didn't actually happen to me, it might have done so. Every situation was one I could have been in myself, and sometimes, to some extent, was. The central character--the "I" of each chapter--is myself, but parents I have claimed are not, or hardly ever quite, my own. I may not have outgrown the common childish fantasy that one's real parents are someone different, somewhere else. Or I may have been trying out alternative destinies--this time not, as usual, for fictional characters but for myself. But however many times one may set oneself up with a new set of parents--or a new country--or new circumstances--the situations in which the "I" is placed (or places itself) always seem to work themselves out in the same way as though character really were fate. The various countries and continents in these chapters are those I have lived in. Engalnd gave me literature--language--words in which to express my world and the ambition to do so. But instead of the Anglo-Saxon world that I thought had formed and informed me, my autobiography seems to be an amalgam of a Central European background and years of living in India. Although I soon felt at home wherever I happened to be, at the same time I held back, almost deliberately, from being truly assimilated. It was as though I wanted to feel exiled from some other place and to be free to go back to or in search of it. But then these quests turned out not to be for a place after all but always for a person. This may have been a person I have looked up to, or been in love with, maybe even for some sort of guru or guide. Someone better, stronger, wiser, altogether other... Does such a person exist, and if so, does one ever find him? Excerpted from My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Apologiap. vii
1. Lifep. 3
2. Menagep. 33
3. Gopisp. 63
4. Springlakep. 89
5. A Choice of Heritagep. 129
6. My Familyp. 153
7. Dancer With a Broken Legp. 181
8. Refuge in Londonp. 211
9. Pilgrimagep. 247