Book Review: Heat and Dust


I must say I have not read too many Booker Prize winning books. In fact, not more than one. The only Booker Prize winning book I have ever read is Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of small things’ which blew my mind away. That book was a Booker and a half, and then some more.

I was drawn into Jhabwala’s world with a mesmerizingly beautiful movie called ‘The Householder’. Starring Shashi Kapoor, this black and white movie made in 1963 is beautifully timeless yet sepia toned in a way that left me nostalgic, even though it was released two decades before I entered this world. A simple tale told beautifully, penned by Jhabwala. It was the Delhi of old depicted in the movie, when Mehrauli was still forest and trees, and the simple yet enrapturing plot of the movie which drew my attention to the existence of this author.

And you would think- what better book to start reading an author off with than one that won the Booker? Well, you would have thought wrong. Heat and Dust is disappointingly underwhelming. The characters have no arc – the reader never understands why Olivia does the things she does, except getting a vague idea. The character of the narrator is even more mystifying in the ways she behaves and her casual sexual dalliances and her life choices are at utmost odds with her keen display of intellect.

The character of the Nawab is the most beautifully etched out and I must say while reading, one almost looks forward to the sections where the Nawab is to appear. He was one character that one can almost see and feel while reading the book and credit must be given to Jhabwala for inventing (or keenly observing and thereafter chronicling) such a colorful character. Not only do the Nawab’s conversations entertain guests within the book, his appearance is a breath of fresh air in what is largely a literary bore.

What saved the book for me, aside from the Nawab, was the subtle poetry Jhabwala effortlessly imbues in her writing. I just wish she had made half as much effort with her plot too.

Title: Heat and Dust
Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabwal
PublisherCounterpoint Press
Pages: 190
Genre: Fiction/Drama
Rating: 2.00 of 5
Reviewed for: Personal Copy

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