Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has achieved remarkable distinction, both as a novelist and as a short-story writer, among writers on modern India. She has been compared to E. M. Forster, though the historical phases and settings of the India they portray differ widely. The award of the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975 made her internationally famous. Placing Jhabvala in a literary-cultural tradition is difficult: Her European parentage, British education, marriage to an Indian, and—after many years in her adopted country—change of residence from India to the United States perhaps reveal a lack of belonging, a recurring “refugee” consciousness. Consequently, she is not an Indian writing in English or a European writing on India but a writer of the world of letters, deeply conscious of being caught up in a bizarre world. Jhabvala’s fiction is sensitive, intense, ironic—the work of a detached observer and recorder of the human world. Her almost clinical accuracy and her sense of the graphic, the comic, and the ironic make her one of the finest writers on the contemporary scene.
In 1984, Jhabvala won the British Award for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Best Screenplay for the Ismail Merchant-James Ivory adaptation of Heat and Dust, and in 1986 she won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room with a View. In 1990, she received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best screenplay for Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, which she adapted from two novels by Evan S. Connell. Jhabvala received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1992 for her adaptation of Forster’s Howards End, and in 1993 she was nominated for an Oscar for her adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. In 1984, Jhabvala was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award, and in 1994 she was honored with the Writers Guild of America’s Laurel Award. In 2003, she was awarded the NBC Screenwriters Tribute and received honors at the Nantucket Film Festival. In 2005, her short story “Refuge in London” won the O. Henry Award.