East Into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Author Counterpoint LLC $25 (314p) ISBN 978-1-887178-50-1
The author is too modest. Written over a span of 20 years, the 13 stories gathered here (five of which have appeared in the New Yorker) are not ""plain"" at all. Rather, they're rich in character, observation and insight. The ""Upper East"" of the title refers to the Manhattan neighborhood; the title itself may echo Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills. Novelist (Out of India) and screenwriter (A Room with a View) Jhabvala depicts characters struggling to reconcile dependency and accommodation in their relationships. Enmeshed by financial and emotional need, her upper class Indians and New Yorkers go to extremes to oblige companions, families and lovers. In the opening story, ""Expiation,"" a New Delhi man reflects guiltily on his responsibility toward his youngest brother, executed for murder. In one powerful New York story, ""A Summer by the Sea,"" a woman with inherited wealth supports her husband's family while tolerating his infidelity with young men. The New York real estate agent in ""Great Expectations"" allows a family of strangers to take over her life, and the wife in ""Fidelity"" would rather die than let her unfaithful and criminally conniving husband return to jail. Acute as the New York narratives are, the New Delhi stories are both broader and deeper, perhaps because they are set against, and in part describe, the dramatic changes that have occurred in India over the last 60 years. Jhabvala deftly captures the dilemmas of people who straddle cultural divides: occidental and oriental, colonized and ""free,"" traditional fealties and market capitalism. Her stories are ""plain"" finally because they are never flashy or postmodern. Instead, they study the wellsprings of character and the pressures of society that make people behave in often self-destructive or hurtful ways. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 324 pages - 978-1-58243-034-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-349-14002-5
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