A Suitable Boy
|A Suitable Boy: A Novel|
First US edition
Phoenix House (UK)
Little, Brown (Canada)
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||823 20|
|LC Class||PR9499.3.S38 S83 1993|
|Followed by||A Suitable Girl|
A Suitable Boy is a novel by Vikram Seth, published in 1993. At 1349 pages (1488 pages softcover) and 591,552 words, the book is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language. A sequel, to be called A Suitable Girl, is due for publication in 2016.
A Suitable Boy is set in post-independence, post-partition India. The novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months as a mother searches for a suitable boy to marry her daughter.
The 1349-page novel alternatively offers satirical and earnest examinations of national political issues in the period leading up to the first post-Independence national election of 1952, including inter-sectarian animosity, the status of lower caste peoples such as the jatav, land reforms and the eclipse of the feudal princes and landlords, academic affairs, inter- and intra-family relations and a range of further issues of importance to the characters.
A Suitable Boy centres on Mrs. Rupa Mehra's efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, with a "suitable boy". At the heart of the novel it is a love story, set in a young, newly independent India. It begins in the fictional town of Brahmpur, located on the Ganges between Banares and Patna. Brahmpur, along with Calcutta, Delhi, Kanpur and other Indian cities, forms a colourful backdrop for the emerging stories.
Lata is a 19-year-old college girl, vulnerable, yet determined to have her own way and not be influenced by her strong mother and opinionated brother, Arun. Her story revolves around the choice she is forced to make between her suitors, Kabir, Haresh, and Amit.
The novel is not simply based on one story. This epic novel covers various issues faced by post-independence India, including Hindu-Muslim strife, abolition of the Zamindari system, land reforms and the empowerment of Muslim women.
The novel is divided into 19 parts, with each part focussing on a different story (and eventually coming back round again). For example part 1 is about Lata's story; part 2 is about a courtesan (the beginning of a major subplot featuring Maan Kapoor); part 3 is about Lata again; part 4 is about Haresh; part 5 is about the Brahmpur political scene etc. Each part is described by a rhyming couplet on the contents page.
Characters in A Suitable Boy
The four main families mentioned in the novel are:
- The Mehras - Mrs. Rupa Mehra, a mother searching for a suitable boy for her daughter. Arun, Savita, Varun and Lata - Mrs. Mehra's four children.
- Arun is married to Meenakshi Chatterji, Savita to Pran Kapoor.
- Lata is Mrs. Rupa Mehra's youngest child. A large portion of the novel as well as the title describes her mother's determination to marry Lata off to "a suitable boy."
- The Kapoors - Mr. Mahesh Kapoor, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor and their 3 children Veena, Pran (married to Savita Mehra) and Maan.
- The Khans - Nawab Sahib of Baitar and his 3 children Zainab, Imtiaz and Firoz.
- The Chatterjis - Mr. Justice Chatterji and Mrs. Chatterji and their children Amit, Meenakshi (married to Arun Mehra), Dipankar, Kakoli and Tapan
Kabir- is portrayed as a love interest of Lata, he attends college with her and his father is a maths teacher at the college. He also played cricket for the college cricket team, Lata and Kabir have a brief courtship if one may call it that.
Amit- is Justice Chatterji's eldest son and a self-proclaimed poet. He expresses a deep affection for Lata.
Four family trees are provided in the beginning of the novel to help readers keep up with the complicated interwoven family networks.
Some of the characters, not mentioned above, include:
- Malati, best friend of Lata
- Aparna, daughter of Meenakshi and Arun
- Kedarnath Tandon, married to Veena (née Kapoor)
- Mrs Tandon
- Bhashkar Tandon, son of Veena and Kedarnath
- Haresh Khanna, shoe businessman
- Hashim Durrani, Kabir's brother
- Dr Durrani, mathematician
- Saeeda Bai
- Tasneem, sister of Saeeda Bai
- Bibbo, servant at Saeeda Bai's
- Rasheed, student at Brahmpur University, Tasneem's Arabic teacher
- Ishaq, sarangi player
- S S Sharma, Chief Minister
- Agarwal, home minister
- Priya, his daughter
- Simran, a Sikh girl
- Kalpana Gaur, friend of the Mehra family
- Billy Irani, friend of Arun Mehra
- Shireen, his girlfriend
- Bishwanath Bhaduri
- Abdus Salam
- Raja of Marh
- Rajkumar of Marh
- Dr Bilgrami
- Professor Mishra, an English professor
- Dr Ila Chattopadhay, an English professor
- Hans, an Austrian diplomat
- Begum Abida Khan, politician
- The Guppi, inhabitant of Salimpur
- Netaji, Rasheed's uncle
- Makhijani, indulgent poet
- Sandeep Lahiri
- Waris, servant at the Baitar Fort
- Jagat Ram
- The Munshi, in charge of the Baitar Fort
- Uma Kapoor, daughter of Savita and Pran
- Sunil Patwardhan, mathematician at Brahmpur University
- Parvati, Mrs Rupa Mehra's stepmother
- Vikram Seth at contemporarywriters.com
- Randomhouse interview with Vikram Seth
- Read the Ten Longest Novels Ever Written Amazon.com
- Size Does Matter. The Longest Novels. AbeBooks
- Armitstead, Claire (13 September 2013). "Vikram Seth finds a suitable publisher". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 December 2013.
- Vikram Seth discusses A Suitable Boy on the BBC World Book Club
- Author interview with Vikram Seth at HarperCollins
- Analysis of the novel at Let's Talk about Bollywood
- A book review
- "Total immersion in 1950s India: Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy", 2010 review by Jo Walton
- Richard B. Woodward (May 2, 1993). "Vikram Seth's Big Book". The New York Times Magazine.
- Agarwalla, Shyam S. (1995). Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy : Search for an Indian Identity. Prestige. ISBN 81-85218-97-8.