Ever since I went backpacking round India on my gap year, I’ve had something of a fascination with the country, and have vowed many times to return. Thus it was with great interest that I began the Indian epic A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. At 1,474 pages it’s one of the longest books written in the English language yet, despite its size, is also one of the best loved and features on the BBC’s Top 100 Reads at number fifty-five.
I first borrowed A Suitable Boy from one of my best friends Abbi just over a year ago but daunted by its size, added it to be ever-growing pile of books to be read. It was only recently that I finally decided to dedicate a string of early mornings and begin the book so critically acclaimed by reviewers the world over.
Set in the fictional town of Brahmpur, A Suitable Boy is a vivid portrayal of four families in the period leading up to the first post-independence national election of 1952. The novel opens with Mrs. Rupa Mehra, head of one of the four families around which the novel is centred, as she tries to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, with a “suitable boy”. Replete with themes of race, religion and class, the mother’s journey to find said man to wed her daughter is not a straightforward one and Seth expertly paints a richly imagined world of four extended families as they manoeuver through a world of highs and lows, of love and of loss.
Perhaps the book’s greatest strength is its length; a novel of such epic proportions, it’s impossible to read without developing a real love for Seth’s wonderfully drawn cast of characters. He paints India as an endearing country of great charm endearment while also laying bare its faults. A rich depiction of a country that is a kaleidoscope of both culture and colour, A Suitable Boy is a love story at its core and will no doubt continue to entice readers many years from now.
Reading this book is certainly a commitment; but one that more than repays the reader’s effort. A Suitable Boy is a story that will stay with you forever.
About A Suitable Boy
Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, are both trying to find—through love or through exacting maternal appraisal—a suitable boy for Lata to marry. Set in the early 1950s, in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.
About Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth is an Indian poet, novelist, travel writer, librettist, children’s writer, biographer and memoirist.
During the course of his doctorate studies at Stanford, he did his field work in China and translated Hindi and Chinese poetry into English. He returned to Delhi via Xinjiang and Tibet which led to a travel narrative From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet(1983) which won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.
The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse (1986) was his first novel describing the experiences of a group of friends who live in California. A Suitable Boy (1993), an epic of Indian life set in the 1950s, got him the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize
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