Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Photo by Damon White
If you are longing for a good, long read I cannot recommend more highly A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Written in English, it is according to Wikipedia the longest novel in English published in one volume. But its claim to fame is far more important than its stupendous length.

The novel tells the story of four Indian families in the 1950s. Written with grace, wit, humor, some satire and great historical detail, the novel centers around one character's search for a suitable husband for her daughter, Lata. Mrs. Rupa Mehra leaves no stone unturned in her search for the right husband for her daughter. Lata is equally determined to make her own choice. But besides this central plot there are also the stories of four families, three of whom are Hindu and one Muslim. The book gives the American reader an insight into an ancient and complex culture.

There are disturbing incidents in the book. No saga of four families can be without tragedy. But there are also sublime moments of joy and even lighthearted fun. Throughout, the importance of family is a thread which ties the whole book together.

Vikram Seth's first book was in verse and you can see the influence of his poetic skills on the prose in the novel. While A Suitable Boy  was written in 1993, it is topical to review it now because the sequel, A Suitable Girl, is due in 2013.

You may or may not be surprised by Lata's choice. I was. But you will be surprised by the depth and breadth of A Suitable Boy.

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