Rezension Erzählungen: My Nine Lives, von Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (2004) – 6 Sterne – mit Pressestimmen

Die neun Erzählungen sind sehr gleichmäßig jeweils knapp 30 Seiten lang: eine weibliche Ich-Erzählerin berichtet mehrere Jahre aus ihrem Leben, manchmal ihr ganzes Leben. Die Geschichten sind nicht miteinander verbunden, doch die Ich-Erzählerinnen leben häufig in Großstädten (fünfmal New York, zweieinhalbmal Delhi, eineinhalbmal Nachkriegs-London) und haben besondere Verbindungen zu Indien – wie die Autorin selbst.

Indien spielt gleichwohl abgesehen von zweieinhalb Ausnahmen nie die Hauptrolle im Buch, auch wenn die professionellen Rezensenten (unten) vor allem die indischen Geschichten zur Kenntnis nehmen. Ton und Inhalt erinnern deutlich an die Kurzgeschichten aus A Lovesong for India (2011, ebenfalls mit Schwerpunkt New York und nicht Indien) und an die Geschichten aus East Into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi (1998).

Wenig Abwechslung:

Mit diesem Aufbau wirkt My Nine Lives etwas gleichförmig, speziell, wenn man die Motive schon aus vielen anderen Büchern von Ruth Prawer Jhabvala kennt: weibliche Verehrung für unliebenswerte Männer (hier jähzornige Pianisten, trunksüchtige Intriganten, Philosophen oder Gurus), gediegenes Leben in New Yorks Oberschicht, Dritte-Klasse-Reisen in Indien, enge Geschwisterbande. Sogar innerhalb von My Nine Lives selbst wiederholen sich die Motive zu oft, etwa die künstlerischen Ambitionen aller Akteure, Tod durch kontaminiertes Brunnenwasser, New Yorker Wohngegenden, undramatischer Ehebruch. My Nine Lives wirken nicht so überkandidelt wie A Lovesong for India, klingen aber zu einheitlich und reißen selten mit, teils auch wegen der schicksals- und mannsergebenen Ich-Erzählerinnen.

Titel und Konzept von My Nine Lives (2004) erinnern etwas an die Paul Theroux-Bücher Mein anderes Leben (1996, engl. My Other Life) und Mein geheimes Leben (1989, engl. My Secret History): In diesen ähnlich betitelten Bänden spielen beide Autoren mit fiktiven Biografien über mehrere Erzählungen hinweg und und lassen den Wahrheitsgehalt kokett offen. (Sagt jedenfalls auch Prawer Jhabvala im kurzen Vorwort. Bei ihr erinnert freilich keine Geschichte deutlich an die eigene Biographie mit Kindheit in Deutschland, Jugend in England, Ehe und Kindern in Indien, später Umzug nach New York und glänzende Karriere; sie beschreibt lediglich immer wieder europäische Nazi-Flüchtlinge in New York oder London. Schade, dass sie wohl nie ausführlich über ihr hochinteressantes Leben schrieb. Nur die zweimal auftauchende Teenagerin zwischen Flüchtlingen im Nachkriegslondon klingt deutlich nach ihrer Biografie.)

Natürlich habe ich mich auch gefragt, wie Prawer Jhabvala mit Paul Therouxs Lieblings-Freundfeind V.S. Naipaul zu vergleichen ist: Beide haben keine rechte Heimat, aber einen starken Indien-Bezug und viel über Indien geschrieben – Jabvhala vor allem Belletristik mal aus weißer, mal aus indischer Sicht, Naipaul Berichte vor allem über Inder.

„Her usual cast of dropouts and eccentrics…“ – die Rezensionen:

Pankaj Mishra in der New York Times:

The book has her usual cast of dropouts and eccentrics: the charismatic Indian guru, the Central Park West heiress, the dubious Indian businessman and politician, the eccentric Central European professor and musician, the trust-funded East Coast bohemian, the failed artist and the plain old charlatan… Describing an aristocratic Muslim woman in the England of the 1950’s, Jhabvala writes, “Although in India, she had, like her mother, hardly been inside a kitchen, she learned to roast, to baste, to bake, with a rattle of the gold bangles that she never took off.“ These cherished symbols of Indian matrimony, rattling in an English kitchen, are the sort of details that make her short, compressed narratives seem oddly spacious, giving the reader the feeling of drifting along with her characters, from one continent to another, across several decades… ((Über Jhabvalas Figuren:)) Their sense of futility can infect the reader, who already feels slightly thwarted by Jhabvala’s often very frank disdain for her characters. Jhabvala’s own overdeveloped satirical impulse appears to originate in her state of spiritual exile. When fully absorbed by self-analysis, the perennial outsider usually ends up regarding all emotional and intellectual commitment as folly. Such cold-eyed clarity, useful to a philosopher or mystic, can only be a disadvantage for the novelist, who needs to enter, at least temporarily, her characters‘ illusions in order to recreate them convincingly on the page. It explains Jhabvala’s rather bleak late fiction, in which she tackles Forsterian themes without Forster’s sympathy and echoes Naipaul’s impatience without his social concerns. “My Nine Lives“ expresses, above all, her increasingly formidable detachment and, despite its many pleasures of observation, appears to round off rather than add to a distinguished corpus.


The nine lives described range from women who feel emotionally pulled towards India, to those who have rejected it, from those who have embraced their mixed heritage, to those who are still struggling to accommodate it… The wider contexts of politics and economics are generally blurred in Jhabvala’s tales. She is interested primarily in private lives. Like Henry James and EM Forster, the two writers whose work she has successfully adapted for the big screen, her focus is on the personal revelations and revolutions that affect relationships with places and people. Jhabvala, however, does not make judgments about her characters.


Elegant vignettes… each chapter is a polished, self-contained story… richly drawn range of beguiling characters… pungent descriptions of India… an accomplished, unusual and deeply personal book

Kirkus Reviews:

Some chapters are more memorable than others… A narrator often falls in love with a charismatic man with spiritual interests, whom she follows to, or meets up with in, India. Relationships never work out, and the narrators are observers of others’ happiness as their own eludes them. India, too, though revered, is often equally disappointing. None of these alternate lives is enviable, though each is interesting… A shuffling, to some degree, of all the same cards makes for a certain repetitiveness. But Jhabvala still outwrites many an author.

Anita Nair in India Today sieht nur eins:

In almost every story, there is India. The woman has many encounters with India – feckless men with dark eyes, charming shop clerks, gurus, Goa, the Ganga, Delhi and the foothills of the Himalayas – but the effect they have is the same…. Even in the 1950s and ’60s which seem the possible time frame for this collection, India offered more… The quirky book jacket carries a warning: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala For Sale in India Only. It should have been „Not to be Sold in India“. For Indians, what could ruin the book are the hackneyed images of India which, I am sure, has palled even a western reader’s imagination.

The Telegraph:

Prawer Jhabvala’s world incorporates a Central European sensibility (she was born in Germany of Polish parents), a deep intimacy with Indian culture (she is married to the Indian architect C. S. H. Jhabvala), and a mastery of English prose that joins these disparate elements into a vivid and flexible whole. The distinctive characteristic of all her narrators, whether their adventures are set in squalid Delhi rooming-houses or overstuffed emigre drawing-rooms, is of a certain separateness: a melancholia, well masked by good manners, but nevertheless with a strong sense of the child staring in from the dark at the richness and merriment of a party to which she is not invited

Asian Review of Books:

Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the stories in My Nine Lives seem to revolve around a couple of common themes. For example, the ‘I’ of each story (presumably Jhabvala) is the plain-looking, generally passive daughter of either rich or impoverished emigrants who is in search of some vague ideal—Life, Spiritualism, Love—that can usually be traced to India and which is, more often than not, embodied in some romantic, overpowering male figure (artist, guru, philosopher) whom the heroine idealizes. My Nine Lives will appeal to anyone who has a soft corner for the writers of the WWII generation, including Muriel Spark or Jhabvala herself. However, those not familiar with Jhabvala might better turn first to her Booker Prize winning novel, Heat and Dust.

Washington Post:

The tales are narrated by nine Western women, many of whom long for the exoticisms of India… the best are related by a cool melancholy voice… The narrators tend to be naive, restive, lonely, unattractive and burdened with the weight of responsibility, with having to deal with and support the people in their lives, either emotionally or financially. It is to India that they most often flee as a means of escape… To Lucia, Vijay is a father figure, a guide, a guru — a character that appears throughout this book in various guises, as well as in Jhabvala’s earlier work, namely the 1983 novel In Search of Love and Beauty. These men may be artists (the pianist Yakuv in „Ménage“ and the painter Kohl in „Refuge in London“), successful politicians (Muktesh in „A Choice of Heritage“ and Vidia in „Dancer With a Broken Leg“) or intellectuals (the renowned Professor Hoch in „My Family“). The relationships between Jhabvala’s narrators and the older men in their lives can be overtly physical… Jhabvala returns to one of her most enduring themes: the relationship between men and women. In almost all cases, the men in My Nine Lives possess considerable power; the women are all too happy to simply luxuriate in the presence of genius… Jhabvala’s women tend to be powerless and in a perpetual state of physical or emotional exile

Chicago Tribune:

Jhabvala is too shrewd a stylist to try to reason why India and its people hold such fascination for these bright but vulnerable young women. Instead, she re-creates that spell on the page. The difference is much like that between reading a recipe and tasting the dish… In the eyes of Jhabvala’s protagonists, India is a place of extremes, at once intricately structured and ritualized and teeming with unruly, fecund life. Arriving with, as one character puts it, „so much to confide, such an unspecified pressure on my heart,“ these women are ripe for seduction. They fall for a charismatic felon, a rising political star, a gimcrack guru — not men with whom to live happily ever after. But Jhabvala’s characters narrate these romances from a distance of age, when time and life have sanded away the sharp edges of experience, leaving memories like smoothly gleaming stones. Not all of the stories in „My Nine Lives“ are set in India. „Springlake“ unfolds on the grounds of an aging Hudson River estate, „Refuge in London“ in a boisterous English boardinghouse. They are, however, all marvelous, drawing one in with the easy, almost offhand command of a practiced and sanguine master.

Publishers Weekly:

The narrator is usually an only child of a wealthy German-Jewish father who fled the Nazis and a beautiful, vain, erstwhile actress mother… 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 ménage à trois or à quatre figures in nearly every story, as do marriages that do not survive the strain of relations with a third party… Though these similarities become apparent as one reads the collection, each story is sinewy with compressed emotion and intellectual energy… Each can stand on its own as a finely crafted example of an accomplished storyteller’s art.

  • Langer Aufsatz über Jhabvalas Leben und Schreiben im Guardian

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