Heat and Dust

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Heat and Dust
First edition (UK)
AuthorRuth Prawer Jhabvala
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherJohn Murray (UK)
Harper and Row (US)
Publication date
30 October 1975
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
LC ClassPR9499.3.J5 H4

Heat and Dust (1975) is a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala that won the Booker Prize in 1975. The book was also ranked by The Telegraph in 2014 as one of the 10 all-time greatest Asian novels.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The initial stages of the novel are told in the first person, from the narrative voice of a woman who travels to India, to find out more about her step-grandmother, Olivia. She has various letters written by Olivia, and through reading these, and learning from her own experiences in India, she uncovers the truth about Olivia and her life during the British Raj in the 1920s.

Through the use of flashbacks, the reader experiences the story from Olivia's point of view. We discover that Olivia, although at first glance she seems simply to be a proper Englishwoman, is actually smothered by British social restrictions, and longs for excitement. She meets the Nawab, who instantly charms her, and gradually lets her into his life. Olivia is drawn to the charm and charisma of the Nawab, and he slowly gains control over her, as he does with other characters such as Harry. Harry is portrayed as weak due to his homosexuality and inability to withstand the Indian climate and food.

Olivia eventually becomes pregnant with the Nawab's baby, and out of fear decides to abort the child. This causes scandal in the town of Satipur. She then resides in an unnamed town ("Town X") for her remaining years. The novel ends with the present-day narrator (whose name is not mentioned) also becoming pregnant, deciding to spend her years in Town X, just as Olivia did.



The novel was made into a film of the same name in 1983 by Merchant Ivory Productions. It was an award-winning film, with a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala based upon her novel, directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant.


  1. ^ "10 best Asian novels of all time". The Telegraph. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2020.

External links[edit]