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GET READY FOR BATTLE by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Fireside: $7.95

July 16, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

An Oscar-winning screenwriter ("A Room With a View"), Jhabvala is also an accomplished novelist, as this witty comedy of manners demonstrates.

Jhabvala's characters find themselves unready for the battle between their ancestral culture and the Westernized mores of contemporary India. The wealthy Gulzari Lal is torn between the roles of financier and paterfamilias. His son, Vishnu, affects modernity but lacks the resolve to live up to his pose. Lal's daughter-in-law hides from the present, while his dreary estranged wife tries to ignore the demands of tradition.

Only irrepressible Kusum Meera succeeds in balancing past and present by embracing their contradictory elements, rather than denying them. She reconciles respectable widowhood with being Lal's mistress, and old-fashioned passive femininity with modern independence. Instead of stooping, she rises to conquer, and charms the reader in the process.

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