What is Vikram Seth famous for?

Vikram Seth is the author of “A Suitable Boy”, one of the longest books ever published in English. As the literary world celebrates 30 years of “A Suitable Boy”, let’s read up on the Indian author who seamlessly shifts between different genres.

Indian author Vikram Seth is noted for his magnum opus “A Suitable Boy”, one of the longest books ever published in English literature. And despite it running into more than a thousand pages, the book was widely celebrated and Seth made an indelible mark on the literary world.                 

Early life

Seth was born to Leila Seth (judge) and Prem Nath Seth (business executive), on June 20, 1952, in Kolkata, India. He was raised in London and India. After attending Indian schools, he graduated from Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

In 1978, he received a master’s degree in Economics from Stanford University and later studied classical Chinese poetry and languages at Nanjing University, China. He returned to India to live in New Delhi in 1987.

Writing career

Originally a poet, Seth is known for seamlessly shifting between different genres of writing and coming up with compelling works. Seth’s first volume of poetry “Mappings” was published in 1980.

It was after he published the humorous travelogue “From Heaven Lake” (1983) that he gained critical attention. The story centred around his hitchhiking journey from Nanking to New Delhi via Tibet. The first novel to be published was “The Golden Gate”. “All You Who Sleep Tonight.”, “Beastly Tales from Here and There” and the poetry collections “The Poems, 1981-1994” (1995) and “Summer Requiem” (2015) are some of his other works.

“An Equal Music’ (1999), a love story revolving around the world of professional musicians is yet another noted work of his. A lesser-known fact is Seth’s musical acumen must have helped him in writing this piece. He was even commissioned to write a libretto (text of an opera) for the English National Opera in 1994. It was published as “Arion and the Dolphin”. It is said that his work “Two Lives” is dear to his heart as it is part memoir, part family history. It revolves around the story of Seth’s great aunt “Henny”, a German Jew, and his Indian great uncle “Shanti”.

Through the book he is not only retelling their story but also trying to find answers to the unique alliance between a German Jew (who lost her family in the Holocaust) and his great uncle who served in the Second World War.

Having travelled widely and lived in Britain, California, India and China, Seth drew inspiration from his experiences for his writing. His first novel “The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse” (1986) revolves around a group of friends living in California. The book won the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book). He has also authored a travel book “From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983)”, which traces the journeys through Tibet, China and Nepal. It won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. “Beastly Tales from Here and There” (1992) is a children’s book that has ten stories about animals which are told in verse. He has also translated the works of Chinese, German and Hindi poets.

A Suitable Boy

Seth turned to prose in “A Suitable Boy”, exploring the relationships between four Indian families. The book is noted for its gripping narrative style. Despite the fact that “A Suitable Boy” ran to 1,349 pages, it didn’t deter readers and sold over one million copies worldwide.

The author took some eight years to write “A Suitable Boy”. Set in India around the time the country had gained independence, the book follows a mothers quest to find a suitable boy to marry her daughter Lata Mehra. It was critically acclaimed and was also made into a BBC mini-series by Mira Nair in 2020.

For the past few years, the literary world has been waiting with bated breath for a sequel to this book called “A Suitable Girl”. The story is believed to be set in contemporary India, as our former protagonist Lata, now a grandmother, tries matchmaking for her grandson. As the wait for his next book continues, why don’t you pick up “A Suitable Boy” and give it a read?

Picture Credit : Google 

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