There is so much to be said about one of the longest novels ever written in the English language, that to sum it up in a mere sum of 1300 words seems like a daunting task but as always, We at BookArt101, like to rise up to the challenge and will do it. We hope our words encourage you to pick up this long but oh so satisfying book – A suitable boy.
In A Gist
A Suitable Boy covers every topic magnificently. It covers Partition, Politics, Religion, the Rights of women, the poetry of Daag Dehlvi, the culture of artists singing live, the Land Reform Act and so much more. Seth in his ‘A Suitable Boy’ does justice to all the themes. It contains a wide array of characters. It focuses on almost all the problems India faced in its sweet new independence. But all of it happens in the background whereas the foreground is sparkled by people who are as amusing, entertaining and flawed as you and me. Vikram Seth’s novel is a picture in motion; a joy to read.
Who should read ‘A Suitable Boy’?
Anyone who wants to read quality Indian writing must read this book. Any lit student or author who is trying to understand the nuances of novel writing must read this book. Anyone who wants to understand the scenario of India in its 1950’s must read the book. I think everyone should read this book.
So, if I want you to read this book, Is it because it is amazing? But then the question we have on hand is, what is it that makes this book amazing? I hope I can answer this and do justice to the book.
A garnishing of poetry
Is it the fact that as a plus point for all the book lovers out there, the book is garnished with Daag Sahib’s Poetry sometimes quoted by Saeeda Bai and later by Mann. Or is it because Vikram Seth very aptly describes the tradition of courtesans surviving on the grace of their rulers or post-independence on the rich families that made their customers and saviours. But you are mistaken, if you think these are the only people who recipe poetry in the novel, there is a discussion of classics by Lata and then the Bengali’s jokingly springing verses after verses on their breakfast table or Amit, a Bengali author writing verses that we, as an audience, get to enjoy.
Or Am I asking you to read this book because this book is a brilliant study of characters? You have the flamboyant men, and the serious go-getters, you have the calm elder sister and the passionate younger sister, you have the brilliant Nawab sahib and the political Hindu families and as if all of this wasn’t enough there is also the knowledgeable and witty Bengalis indicating the widening of the chasm of differences between the families of India as if the wide array of characters wasn’t enough. There are so many things to be captivated by. If you really want to read the novel, Trust me, you will find a character to root for.
The beauty of Seth’s characterisation lies in the fact that even though there are so many characters, you never confuse them for one another. They all are distinct. You will find a man entirely devoted to his wife but also a man fixated in love with a courtesan. You will find women working to silently keep the household running but you will also find women in parliament. You will find a young girl pining for love but you will also find a young man trying his best to make it in a world that is unfair even though he has more than what is required to get where he wants to be.
Themes in ‘A Suitable Boy’
Or do I call this book amazing because of the way it merges politics and religion and How Seth’s simple narration depicts it. Vikram Seth picks a topic and then concentrates to dilute and tell the masses; what happened in a newly independent India? He focuses on the Land Reform Bill and how the politicians post-independence reacted to the situation. Especially bringing it to notice of the naked eye the way the situation of riots is handled, how they are spread and the aftereffects of killings… Also, How they are covered up and brutality is unleashed by those in power.
At the very heart, it is a very Austenian Pride and Prejudice story of a mother trying to find a son-in-law. Lata, throughout the course of the novel, comes in the company of three men. First, a carefree Muslim whom Lata loves adoringly and wants to marry. Second, a Bengali author who is enthralled by Lata’s charms and wants to marry her and third, a simpleton who has the talent to reach where he wants to but he must fight the world for it. Whom Lata chooses is the surficial conflict of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
But Vikram Seth’s brilliance lies in the fact of how much he is able to encompass the society he lives in while staying within the limits of the storyline mentioned above. It is amazing to see how much he absorbs like a sponge and the amount of it, he so gracefully sputters out on paper.
But, even though all these reasons are valid for their own kind of audience, they are still not the reason why I want you to pick up Vikram Seth’s A suitable boy.
It is a story set in the early 1950s circling around 4 major families covering a diverse array of themes. But… There is one scene that makes me want every person I come in contact with, to want to read this novel. The scene:
Zainab, Nawab sahib’s daughter who has spent her entire life in a purdah, is faced with a situation where the police are surrounding the years old haveli and want the Nawab sahib and others to empty it because of the new litigations being passed by the government.
But the Nawab sahib and sons have gone somewhere and cannot come back in time to save the haveli. So, a woman who has stayed her whole life in a purdah comes out of it. Asks the servants to light every corner of the room so that it feels like people still live there and sends her young son with a servant to the CM house requesting him to not let the police take the haveli…
It is a simple scene and there is nothing great about it. But for a mother to send her young son somewhere way past his bedtime for such a heavy duty. For a woman to defy a lifelong tradition. For a woman who is expected to know nothing and be nothing controlling the situation like a pro…. It means a lot.
The scene… After I read it, it stayed with me for so long. It reminded me of the struggle of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the wind or Elizabeth Bennet’s self-respect while saying ‘I could have easily forgiven his pride had he not mortified mine’.
Why is ‘A Suitable Boy’ worth it?
The sheer belief in one’s own self, the taking control of the situation, the thing that awakens inside you when you are forced to fight things bigger than you but you must, because some things are just worth saving and fighting for, and even dying. It is for this scene that I want you to read this novel. Courage like this is shown in numerous actions performed by different characters throughout the story. It is for that courage that I want you to read Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
Because at the end of it all, it is a story of courage and resilience and not giving up: characters and our country alike.
If you liked this review, you will also enjoy our log on 10 best books by Indian Authors, here.