A Suitable Boy

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A Suitable Boy: A Novel
First US edition
AuthorVikram Seth
Set inGangetic Plain, 1951–52
PublisherHarperCollins (US)
Phoenix House (UK)
Little, Brown (Canada)
Publication date
May 1993
Media typePrint (hardback)
823 20
LC ClassPR9499.3.S38 S83 1993
Followed byA Suitable Girl 

A Suitable Boy is a novel by Vikram Seth, published in 1993. At 1,349 pages (1,488 pages softcover) and 591,552 words, the book is one of the longest novels ever published in a single volume in the English language.[1][2][3] A sequel, to be called A Suitable Girl, was due for publication in 2017.[4] As of 2020 the novel was still unpublished.

Plot summary[edit]

A Suitable Boy is set in a newly post-independence, post-partition India. The novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, and centres on Mrs. Rupa Mehra's efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, to a "suitable boy". Lata is a 19-year-old university student who refuses to be influenced by her domineering mother or opinionated brother, Arun. Her story revolves around the choice she is forced to make between her suitors Kabir, Haresh, and Amit.

It begins in the fictional town of Brahmpur, located on the Ganges between Banares and Patna. Brahmpur, along with Calcutta, Delhi, Lucknow and other Indian cities, forms a colourful backdrop for the emerging stories.

...reviewers and critics alike have frequently compared it to Tolstoy's War and Peace, as well as to fictions by British novelists from more than a century ago, including George Eliot's Middlemarch, Charles Dickens' Bleak House, William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa.[5]

Seth has stated that the biggest influence on writing A Suitable Boy was the five-volume 18th century Chinese novel The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin.[6]

The 1349-page novel alternately offers satirical and earnest examinations of national political issues in the period leading up to the first post-Independence national election of 1952, including Hindu–Muslim strife, the status of lower caste peoples such as the jatav, land reforms and the eclipse of the feudal princes and landlords, academic affairs, abolition of the Zamindari system, family relations and a range of further issues of importance to the characters.

The novel is divided into 19 parts with, generally, each part focusing on a different subplot. Each part is described in rhyming couplet form on the contents page.

Characters in A Suitable Boy[edit]

Four family trees are provided in the beginning of the novel to help readers keep track of the complicated interwoven family networks. The four main families in the novel are:

  • The Mehras
    • Mrs. Rupa Mehra, a mother searching for a suitable boy for her youngest daughter
    • Raghubir Mehra, her deceased husband
      • Arun, Mrs. Mehra's oldest son (married to Meenakshi Chatterji)
        • Aparna, daughter of Arun and Meenakshi
      • Varun
      • Savita (married to Pran Kapoor)
        • Uma Kapoor, daughter of Savita and Pran
      • Lata, whose arranged marriage forms the basis of the main plot
  • The Kapoors
    • Mr. Mahesh Kapoor (state Minister of Revenue) and Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor
      • Veena (married to Kedarnath Tandon)
        • Bhaskar Tandon, son of Veena and Kedarnath
      • Pran (married to Savita Mehra)
      • Maan
  • The Khans
    • The Nawab Sahib of Baitar
      • Zainab, his daughter
        • Hassan and Abbas, her sons
      • Imtiaz, a doctor
      • Firoz, a lawyer
    • Begum Abida Khan, politician (sister-in-law of the Nawab Sahib)
  • The Chatterjis
    • Mr. Justice Chatterji and Mrs. Chatterji
      • Amit, eldest son and internationally acclaimed poet and author. A prominent love interest of Lata
      • Meenakshi (married to Arun Mehra)
      • Dipankar
      • Kakoli
      • Tapan

Some other prominent characters, not mentioned above, include:

  • Dr Durrani, mathematician at the university that Kabir and Lata attend
    • Kabir Durrani, a love interest of Lata and a central hub of one of the main themes of the novel. Kabir is a highly successful player on the university cricket team. Lata and Kabir have a brief, intense courtship, the ramifications of which echo through the rest of the novel.
    • Hashim Durrani, Kabir's brother
  • Haresh Khanna, an enterprising and determined shoe-businessman, who is also a love interest of the heroine
  • Nehru
  • Malati, best friend of Lata
  • Mrs Tandon
    • Kedarnath Tandon (married to Veena Kapoor)
  • Saeeda Bai, courtesan and musician
  • Tasneem, sister of Saeeda Bai
  • Bibbo, servant at Saeeda Bai's house
  • Rasheed, student at Brahmpur University; Tasneem's Urdu teacher
  • Ishaq, sarangi player
  • S S Sharma, Chief Minister
  • Agarwal, Home Minister
    • Priya, his daughter (married to Ram Vilas Goyal)
  • Simran, a Sikh woman and former love interest of Haresh Khanna
  • Kalpana Gaur, friend of the Mehra family
  • Billy Irani, friend of Arun Mehra, later has an affair with Meenakshi
    • Shireen, his fiancee
  • Bishwanath Bhaduri
  • Abdus Salam
  • Raja of Marh
    • Rajkumar of Marh, his son
  • Dr Bilgrami
  • Professor Mishra, an English professor
  • Dr Ila Chattopadhay, an English professor
  • Hans, an Austrian diplomat
  • The Guppi, inhabitant of Salimpur
  • Netaji, Rasheed's uncle
  • Sahgal
  • Makhijani, indulgent poet
  • Sandeep Lahiri
  • Waris, servant at the Baitar Fort and competes with Mahesh Kapoor in the General Election
  • The Munshi, in charge of the Baitar Fort
  • Jagat Ram, a shoemaker
  • Badrinath
  • Professor Nowrojee, who runs the university literary club attended by Kabir and Lata
  • Sunil Patwardhan, mathematician at Brahmpur University
  • Parvati, Mrs Rupa Mehra's stepmother

Real people and events[edit]

  • The Praha Shoe Company of the novel is modeled on Bata Shoes.
  • Pul mela is based on Kumbh Festival, which takes place at Sangam, Allahabad.

BBC TV series[edit]

As of October 2019, a six part TV series adapted from the novel, also titled as A Suitable Boy, directed by Mira Nair, written by Andrew Davies and starring Tabu, Ishaan Khatter, Tanya Maniktala and Rasika Duggal is in production.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

On 5 November 2019 BBC News included A Suitable Boy on its list of the 100 most influential novels.[8] The Independent wrote that 'the movement and music of the writing in A Suitable Boy take time to absorb, but its unobtrusive, powerfully rational sweetness eventually compels the reader to its way of seeing.'[9]



External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]