Matt Schudel in the Washington Post:
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a German-born novelist whose fiction was set largely in India and who gained her greatest acclaim as a two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter with the Merchant-Ivory filmmaking team, died April 3 at her home in New York City. She was 85.
She had a pulmonary disorder, said James Ivory, the film director who had worked with Mrs. Jhabvala since the early 1960s. Besides the Academy Award, her honors included the Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary honor.
Mrs. Jhabvala’s life took many unusual turns, beginning with her exile to England from her childhood home in Germany, but none was more surprising than her journey into the world of filmmaking.
After moving to New Delhi with her Indian-born husband in the 1950s, Mrs. Jhabvala (pronounced JAHB-vah-lah) wrote a series of novels and short stories set in her new homeland. In 1961, she received a phone call asking if she would write a screenplay of her novel “The Householder.”
The call came from Ismail Merchant, a young producer from India who was making his first feature film. The director was Ivory, an American who had previously made only documentaries. Mrs. Jhabvala accepted the project, despite knowing almost nothing about screenwriting, and the film was produced in 1963.