It was a balmy evening, in early fall, and the night was drawing on. As a fledgling writer with barely a book to my name, I’d been invited up to the apartment that Sonny Mehta and his writer wife, Gita, shared on Park Avenue. Sonny had been quiet through much of the evening, while Gita filled their exquisite flat—all framed miniatures and books—with color and warmth. Then, as seemed to happen with even the lowliest of us intruders, they invited me out with them for dinner, Sonny apparently unperturbed by the fact that he had three manuscripts to read before the morning.

Now, as we sauntered back toward their flat, sometime after 11 p.m., Sonny stopped outside the Plaza with a question in his eyes. Then he pressed some banknotes into the hands of the man in a horse-drawn carriage and invited me to step up. For 30 minutes I found myself across from the coolest and most glamorous couple I’d ever seen as we jangled through Central Park like revelers in some Audrey Hepburn movie. By the time we disembarked, and Sonny prepared to walk back to his manuscripts, this newcomer to the literary world was wondering whether the writer’s life was something from The Thousand and One Nights.