Today in Literary History – May 7, 1927 – Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is born

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the novelist and screenwriter, was born on May 7, 1927 in Cologne, Germany. Her family was Jewish and she and her parents managed to escape to England in 1939. Her father committed suicide after the war, despondent that most of his family had died in the Holocaust.

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Jhabvala moved to India in 1951 to marry Cyrus Jhabvala, an architect whom she had met in London. The couple had three children and Jhabvala began writing short stories and novels with Indian settings.

She started her long collaboration with film producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory in 1963 when they asked her to write the screenplay for their first film. The Merchant Ivory team specialized in turning classic works of English fiction into beautifully filmed movies.

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Jhabvala was the scriptwriter on many of their projects. Ivory and Merchant considered her to be the indispensible third partner in their work. In all Jhabvala wrote 23 screenplays for Merchant Ivory films. She won Academy Awards for her adaptations of The Remains of the Day in 1986 and Howards End in 1992.

Jhabvala won the Booker Prize in 1975 for her novel Heat and Dust. The same year she left India and she and her husband moved to New York, where she lived for the rest of her life. One of her late novels was called Three Continents and she spent much of her own later years travelling between New York, Britain and India. She died in 2013 at the age of 85.

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