Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, CBE (1927–2013) was a German-born British and American Booker prize-winning novelist, short story writer and two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter. She is perhaps best known for her long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions, made up of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant.

After moving to India in 1951, she married Cyrus S. H. Jhabvala, an Indian-Parsi architect. The couple lived in New Delhi and had three daughters. Jhabvala began then to elaborate her experiences in India and wrote novels and tales on Indian subjects. She wrote a dozen novels, 23 screenplays, and eight collections of short stories and was made a CBE in 1998 and granted a joint fellowship by BAFTA in 2002 with Ivory and Merchant. She is the only person to have won both a Booker Prize and an Oscar.

Ruth Prawer was born in Cologne, Germany to Jewish parents Marcus and Eleanora (Cohn) Prawer. Marcus was a lawyer who moved to Germany from Poland to escape conscription and Eleanora's father was cantor of Cologne's largest synagogue. Her father was accused of communist links, arrested and released, and she witnessed the violence unleashed against the Jews during the Kristallnacht. The family was among the last group of refugees to flee the Nazi regime in 1939, emigrating to Britain. Her elder brother, Siegbert Salomon Prawer (1925–2012), an expert on Heinrich Heine and horror films, was fellow of The Queen's College and Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of Oxford.

During World War II, Prawer lived in Hendon in London, experienced the Blitz and began to speak English rather than German. Charles Dickens' works and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind kept her company through the war years and the latter book she read while taking refuge in air raid shelters during the Luftwaffe's bombing of London. She became a British citizen in 1948. The following year, her father died by suicide after discovering that 40 members of his family had died during the Holocaust. Prawer attended Hendon County School (now Hendon School) and then Queen Mary College, where she received an MA in English literature in 1951.

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