There are different types of readers. I am the kind who reads multiple books at the same time. Somehow I can’t get myself to read and focus on just one story. But there is one novel, for which I did not split my attention. And that is quite the opposite of what happens when someone picks up A Suitable Boy, by the acclaimed novelist Vikram Seth. The sheer length of this novel is reason enough to scare even the most avid reader. At 1,349 pages the book is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language. So yes, you need tons of patience, ample time at hand and Vikram Seth does the rest for you.
The story set in the 1950s post-independence India is rather simple. Mrs. Rupa Mehra, a widow with four children is looking for a suitable boy for her 19 year old younger daughter Lata. And around this premise, Seth builds a network of other stories that connect and intertwine the various family trees involved. The Mehras, Chatterjis, Kapoors and Khans form the backbone of the novel, with a great many interspersed characters holding the novel together. Mrs. Rupa Mehra is a much less flamboyant and rather subdued version of Mrs. Bennet from the Pride and Prejudice, who just wants a well-settled Khatri boy for her wayward daughter. But in the process come a few suitors she doesn’t much care for. The handsome, mysterious and Lata’s choice is Kabir Durrani. A Muslim boy who loves Lata passionately, but even the mutual feelings are not enough to bridge the religious gap. Amit Chatterji, the famous poet is too much like Lata (and my favorite!), and equally smitten by her natural charm and silent beauty. Haresh Khanna, the prim and proper shoe-businessman who is ready to do anything to impress his potential mother-in-law. He is the perfect choice according to Mrs. Rupa Mehra and the matured man who can keep Lata secure and happy. But Lata feels otherwise. Who indeed is the suitable boy for her?
But this though the main plotline, is not the only. Set in a fictional town called Brahmpur (somewhere in UP or Bihar), in post-independence India, there are political battles being fought, Zamindari System is being abolished, caste system is visibly prevalent, courtesans are popular, Vikram Seth delves deeply into many interesting characters. I wish I could write about every family, but believe you me, this post wouldn’t end. A few prime characters are Maan Kapoor, the carefree son of politician Mahesh Kapoor who falls in love with the beautiful and enchanting courtesan Saeeda Bai. Then there is the complete Chatterji clan, the modern family living in Calcutta who rather shock Mrs. Rupa Mehra with their openness and audacity. And many more engaging personalities, I will leave for you to explore.
Why should you pick this book? The storyline, the writing, the language, the accuracy to the period it falls in. And if this isn’t good enough for you, a few facts that will make your will stronger to give this book a go.
- Published in 1993, Vikram Seth spent 10 years to research the book and 8 years to complete. And his meticulous writing speaks for itself.
- At the time of its release, Vikram Seth was the highest paid author who received an advance of almost 2.5 crore Rupees (25 million Dollars) for his debut novel. In 1993!!
- BBC is adapting A Suitable Boy as its first period drama with a non-white cast.
So, grab your kindle and immerse yourself in this world that stays on with you long after the novel ends. It is almost as though you were very much a part of the Brahmpur Story and the void is difficult to fill after you put the book down. You can also purchase the format of your choice from Amazon!