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Book Review: A Suitable Boy

Editor’s Note: I am trying to move all my book reviews that I’ve put on various blogs into one place, so the next few entries (at least the ones on Wednesdays) will be repeats while I clean house. This was originally posted on April 20, 2010.

When I was in college, my Victorian literature professor said that she felt that everyone should have to go through what she called “the long read,” and because the Victoria era was known for its novels, she felt that class was the perfect opportunity. She assigned us David Copperfield (which I’ll admit I didn’t finish, but only because I lost the book when I was about two chapters from the end; I think I wrote a paper on it anyway–sorry, Dr. Cronin).

At that point in my life, I had looked at the book, considered what I normally read and shrugged. It wasn’t a particularly long book as far as I was concerned. By middle school, I had gotten to the point where I was actually choosing books by how thick they were over what the books were actually about. This netted me a glut of Stephen King novels and the first half of the third book in a Tad Williams series that I still haven’t read.

For the tl;dr people: Thick books don’t scare me.

Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy is 1,488 pages long.

As seen here with iSoldmysoul.

As seen here with iSoldmysoul.

When I saw it on the shelf, I licked my lips in anticipation; I just knew it would be delicious, but I didn’t buy it.

The next time I saw it, I picked it up and read the back, but I still didn’t buy it.

Months passed, maybe even years. My father bought me a Kindle for Christmas. I immediately looked up the book to see if I could get it on my new eBook reader. No dice. Another year passed. I was at a Borders with my mom. She said I could have a book. I looked through all the new releases and popular books, but wasn’t interested in any of them enough to actually buy one. Then I passed the Ss and there it was, large and in charge, waiting for me to pick it up.

I suppose it’s a testament to my reading reputation that my mother even bought the book for me without mentioning how thick it was.

It took me a little less than two months to read which hasn’t happened in a while, and it was–in point of fact–delicious. I would say, however, that it’s not for everyone.

Quick Synopsis: The book opens with the wedding of Savita Mehra to Pran Kapoor. Savita’s mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, decides that it is now time for her to find a husband for her younger daughter, Lata, to marry. She seemingly enlists almost the whole of India to finding a suitable boy, though the book focuses on three–Haresh, a shoemaker; Amit, a poet; and Kabir, a student at Lata’s university, who Lata falls in love with, but (as far as her mother is concerned) is the least suitable because he is Muslim while the Mehras are Hindu.

Mixed in are the politics of the time–Pran’s father is a high standing member of India’s Congress party–as well as the activities of Pran’s brother, Maan, who is only slightly older than Lata. I had initially thought he’d be Suitor Number Four, but that didn’t really come to fruition the way I thought it might.

If you’re wondering how all that stretched to 1,488 pages, you’re not alone, yet somehow Seth managed to do it without it seeming like the book is dragging. There’s a lot of Indian poetry and a lot of political speeches (which I’ll admit I skimmed through at points). To be honest, I think the book could have been easily split into two books–one dealing with the actual quest for a suitable boy and one dealing with all the politics. Seth does unite all the different stories successfully, but they could have stood alone.

I’d say this book is an acquired taste. Like Brussels sprouts…no, wait, I don’t like Brussels sprouts. It’s like a fine wine…no, wait, that’s a cliché…ugh. Point being not everyone will like this book despite it being very good. For some people, it will be too long. Some people won’t like the poetry parts. Some people won’t be able to get past the politics.

For me, I was right there with him up until the end when Lata ended up choosing who I thought wasn’t the best choice. I’ve read a few other reviews that helped me understand why, and I suppose her reasoning made sense, but it might take me another read through of the book for me to come to the same conclusion.

I also read that A Suitable Girl is supposed to be coming out in 2013. I’m hoping that it has to do with Maan, but I’m guessing it’ll be finding a wife for Vran, Lata’s unmarried brother.

But before I wade into a second reading, I have this pile of books that’s begging, pleading, whimpering quietly, waiting to be fed…

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  1. March 20, 2013 at 6:39 pm

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