"My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past" by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Shoemaker & Hoard, $15). New York, London, India and a Nazi-shadowed...

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“My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past”
by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Shoemaker & Hoard, $15). New York, London, India and a Nazi-shadowed Europe supply the points of reference in this superbly written collection of nine tales, in which the Booker Prize winner (“Heat and Dust”) and Oscar-winning screenplay writer (“Howards End,” “A Room With a View”) imagines various directions her life might have taken.

Names and circumstances change from story to story, but certain key elements recur. Material wealth does battle with spiritual hunger. Culture-rich exiles find themselves either cash-poor or, if in funds, cash-foolish. Politicians, gurus and artists take advantage of everyone around them. And the most unlikely solutions are found to sexual imbroglios that would leave most people gasping. (“The way émigrés live,” one narrator explains, “is determined not so much by conventional morality as by the emotional refuge they find in each other.”) The result is a highly entertaining and surprisingly subversive take on life and love from a storytelling master.

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic