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The Vastness of India
on June 11, 2003
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.
Besides being "just a soap opera" revolving around the lives of half a dozen families of Bramphur, this is an ultimate book about India following the years after the death of Gandhi and independence from the British. Partition and ever increasing tension between Hindus and Muslims are ongoing themes and the continuing more subtle influences of the British on Indian culture. Every walk of life is covered from the untouchables of the Rudhia district to the Raja of Marh and his son.
Don't let the size of this book discourage you, I found it easy to read over a period of time; each of the 19 sections is like a mini story in itself, with many short chapters in each section. I took several breaks in reading this, always drawn back the way one is drawn back to a family and old friends to see what's become of them now. Long as it is, I wished it could go on forever.