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A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics) Paperback – October 4, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 301 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Seth previously made a splash with his 1986 novel in verse, The Golden Gate . Here he abandons the compression of poetry to produce an enormous novel that will enthrall most readers; those who are fazed by a marathon read, however, may gasp for mercy. Set in the post-colonial India of the 1950s, this sprawling saga involves four families--the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Chatterjis and the Khans--whose domestic crises illuminate the historical and social events of the era. Like an old-fashioned soap opera (or a Bombay talkie), the multi-charactered plot pits mothers against daughters, fathers against sons, Hindus against Muslims and small farmers against greedy landowners facing government-ordered dispossession. The story revolves around independent-minded Lata Mehra: Will she defy the stern order of her widowed upper-caste Hindu mother by marrying the Muslim youth she loves? The search for Lata's husband expands into a richly detailed and exotically vivid narrative that crisscrosses the fabric of India. Seth's panoramic scenes take the reader into law courts, religious processions, bloody riots, academia--even the shoe trade. Portraits of actual figures are incisive; the cameo of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, captures his high-minded, well-meaning indecision. Seth's point of view is both wry and affectionate, and his voluble, palpably atmospheric narrative teems with chaotic, irrepressible life. 100,000 first printing; $200,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; QPB alternate; author tour.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Opening and closing with a wedding, this novel is ostensibly the story of a Hindu family trying to find a suitable husband for their younger daughter, Lata. Who will the suitable boy turn out to be? The dashing Kabir, with whom Lata falls in love? The ambitious businessman whom Lata's mother favors? Or the sophisticated poet her relatives choose? The interwoven stories of four families linked by marriage form the background for this marital quest. It proves slow-moving at first, but the patient reader will inevitably be caught up in the compelling rhythms of a richly complex tale. The setting--India in the 1950s--is vividly realized: the enormity of the subcontinent, its overpowering heat, lush gardens, colorful festivals, and exotic foods. Memorable characters abound; not since Dickens has there been such a lively and idiosyncratic cast crowded into one novel. Drama is provided by the simmering conflict between Hindu and Muslim, which breaks out unexpectedly throughout the novel. This is old-fashioned storytelling at its best; highly recommended. BOMC and Quality Paperback alternates; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/93.
- Beth Ann Mills, New Rochelle P.L., N.Y.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1488 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reissue edition (October 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060786523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060786526
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 2.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (301 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gail Moore on June 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Just finished my second reading of "A Suitable Boy", it will always be one of my favorite books. Looking over some of the other reviews here I see that this 1474 page novel has been called "just" an Indian soap opera, and while I think soap-opera may be an apt description, it is one of the best books I have ever read. This novel reminded me of an old fashioned English novel in the style of Dickens or Trollope or Eliot, with a large cast of characters, a thick tome with many divergent plot lines that are eventually tied together by the ending, an incredible journey for a reader. They just don't write them this way any more.
The title story of the novel is the one of Lata Mehra and her search (or rather her mother's search) for a suitable boy to marry. The novel opens at the wedding of Savita & Pran and introduces many of the characters we will be seeing more of later. Lata is struck by the fact that her sister is marrying a total stranger, accepting passively a marriage arranged by the family, later she will choose between passion and an arranged marriage for herself. Maan Kapoor is another central character that we get to know in depth following him through his obsession for Saeeda Bai, exile from the city and the dramatic scene involving Firoz. There's far more though than the stories of only Lata and Maan, both of whom are sometimes almost forgotten for several chapters, so many other unforgettable characters amongst the Mehra family, Kapoors, Chatterjis, Rasheed & his family, the Nawab Sahib & his family, Saeeda Bai's establishment. I found Arun & his wife Meenakshi, the anglophile snobs absolutely hilarious.
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Format: Paperback
I will be brief and merely add some comments to the many reviews already written on this book. First of all, I think it is a very good book, but definitely not for everyone. If you're thinking about reading it, you're probably wondering if it's worth the effort of investing in such a long undertaking. Here are some suggestions:
If you are yourself Indian and/or interested in India, especially early post-independence Indian history, then you will probably find this a very interesting read. Vikram Seth manages to pack an extraordinary amount of historical, economic, social and cultural detail in his novel, which is, after all, essentially a love story. But it is also a story about -- not just set in -- India. If you have no interest in India or Indian culture (or Pakistan and sub-continental Muslim culture), you will likely be confused by many words and references, and you should keep away from this book.
Likewise, if you are interested in Hindu-Muslim relations, Seth does a good job at highlighting some of the key issues and the different ways some Hindus and Muslims look at the same issues. In this, it is amazing to compare what he wrote about the 1950s with the situation in India today. You can't understand what's going on in India today without a good dose of history, and Seth knows that.
Well, what if you're not really one way or the other as regards Indian history and culture, but you like big family dramas? This book is also for you. Seth has so much compassion for his characters, that you will find it very hard not to empathize with at least several of them. Moreover, he injects a great deal of humor into the book. It is a book about people, about life -- in all its aspects, about death, about family, and more.
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Format: Paperback
A contemporary critic reacted to War and Peace with the exclamation, "It's not a book, but an elephant!" A Suitable Boy is a lengthier book of similar scope (although more tightly-structured, I think). Tolstoy is a genius because He Did It First, but that does not take away from the fact that with A Suitable Boy, Seth has earned his place in the Canon alongside War and Peace, Anna Karenina and other nineteenth-century greats, for every reason one can name.

Let me get it over with. Yes, this is a big book. It is a very long book. It is 1,488 pages long. Yes, let us all say it again: That makes it a Very Long Book. Those readers whose attention spans have been permanently shrunken by 30-second commercials and 50-minute TV programs will have a hard time with this book. There are also lots of important characters, too, just as in Anna Karenina, where you have three families closely depicted. So there are lots of people to keep straight. The good news is that Seth's characterizations are such that you can tell who's speaking, often, merely with the dialogue. You very often don't need the tags, "Arun said," or "Kakoli said." But yes, there are lots of characters, lots of things happening, and it takes a long time to read because it's yes, Very Long. To those whose major complaint is the length: Don't be afraid -- it won't bite. Open it up and read it, one page at a time.

And let us get this out of the way, too: No, this is not a Sweeping Tumutuous Saga. If you loved Kristin Lavransdatter, you will not like A Suitable Boy. It is not a romance novel, even though it begins and ends with weddings. It has a similar feel to Anna Karenina, but with a little more hilarity and a lot less heartbreaking tragedy (in the literary sense).
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