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My Nine Lives

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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 Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"A writer of genius...a writer of world class...a master storyteller." "Jhabvala name-drops 'Chekov, ' and this is no pretension given the grace of her spiraling plots, the depth of her psychology, the elegance of her humor, the subtlety of her eroticism, and her masterfully concise descriptions of imperiled households, eccentric personalities, sexual enthrallment, unexpected alliances, and transcendent love."

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