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A Suitable Boy : Part 1

This is partial review of a long daunting book that has been somewhat overdue.

50 pages into the book I have so much to say about it but thought I should keep the lid on until I finish book 1, i.e. stopped at Chapter 7, 7.46 to be exact. Now that I have finished book 1, here’s my thought for the first month of the readalong:

The first thought when I read the book was: wow, this is a so confusing. So many names and characters and so many jargons of Indian terms. What is Raag Todi? What kind of music is ghazal? How does a sindoor, or a starched kurta or dhoti looks like? Can someone write a glossary and include it at the back of the book for me please?

I stuck out and persevere I did…. and then I got hooked! I should have guessed! To keep the story going for 1484 pages, it must involved a lot of characters (I wonder War and Peace is the same?) and all of them were given adequate slot and airtime. A Suitable Boy is about four large families (the Mehras, the Kapoors, the Khans and the Chatterjis) and those who orbit around them, it is also a vast, panoramic exploration of the Indian subcontinent at a crucial hour as it faces its first great General Election and the forming of a new nation after the partition (in case you don’t know).

The story at its core is a love story. The tale of Lata of the Mehra’s family, and her mother’s attempt to find a suitable boy for her. Poor Lata however is shackled by her mother’s protective maternal instincts. Mrs Rupa Mehra is a melodramatic, sentimental women. She lost her dear husband and was left to raise Arun, Varun, Savita and Lata on her own. The book opens with Savita Mehra’s marriage to Pran Kapoor, where the four families are gathered. Lata then fell in love with Kabir and engages in a forbidden love, staying true to a common theme of Indian movies where class incompatibility (different religion, different caste, rival families) is always the main source of tragedy and misery. I read the part on Lata’s love story eagerly, so very eager to find out what happens next. But there are many other characters who stole the limelight which digress from the main aim of finding a suitable boy. We have Arun Mehra the upcoming ambitious executive with a British firm with wife Meenakshi Chatterji who is a social butterfly living a very unconventional lifestyles of daily evening entertainments with office associates and circle of friends. Varun Mehra the younger brother, good for nothing, disappointing black sheep of the family who is trying to complete his degree. There is Savita who married Pran Kapoor, an English professor who is trying to get James Joyce into the teaching syllabus much to the objection of the university panel.

In the Kapoor family, we have Pran and younger brother Maan who is smitten by a courtesan and singer, Saeeda Bai with dire consequence. Pran’s sister Veena and husband Kedarnath is experiencing liquidity problem as the shoemaking business that they own are hampered by worker’s revolution. Father Mahesh Kapoor is the Revenue Minister. A taciturn man who seems to treat his wife unkindly, approves the land bill to take land away from the landlord Zarmindan.

The Khans are connected to the Kapoors by Maan, whose good friends are Firoz Khan who relentless teach Mann the game of polo and other stuff. Firoz’s sister Zainab lives behind the veil after she is married and endures a life of subservient to her unfaithful husband.

The Chatterji is the breath of fresh air and the most interesting of all family and seems to model after Seth’s own family.

The Chatterji Family at breakfast presented a scene of cordial conflict. It was an intelligent family where everyone thought of everyone as an idiot. some people thought the Chatterjis obnoxious because they appeared to enjoy each others’ company even more than the company of others. but if they had dropped by at the Chatterjis for breakfast and seen them bickering, they would probably have disliked them less. – page 407

The Chatterjis’ eldest son, Amit is trained in law but prefers to meddle with poetry and writing novels. Meenakshi is married to Arun Mehra as I mentioned. Dipankar studied economics (Seth studied economics too) and is expected to run the father’s business, if Amit wouldn’t do it. Kakoli, also known as Kuku is the favourite daughter who is involve with a German expatriate named Hans. While Tapan is Judge Chatterji’s 13-year-old son who demonstrates similar poetry prowess to his elder brothers.

I like A Suitable Boy better than An Equal Music. Out of all the stories, I love the story of Lata and Mann’s devotion to Saeeda Sai. The stories of the Chatterjis which appear one quarter at the end of book 1 appeals highly to me too.

True to his reputation as a polyglot, or a polymath, Vikram Seth could talk about everything with depth and precision. Seth moves effortlessly through the questions of the heart (love, heartbreaks, poetry, marriage and Indian classical music) and the mind (High court justice system, Indian politics, land bills and union protests, Indian philosophy, religious belief, polo games and horse racing) with ease and  grace. Sometimes serious, other times flippant but never mundane. Plenty of suspense and hilarious moments to keep me entertain.

I wonder how you are getting on SamAths. and Ana? Alison P, Amritorupa @riversihaveknownBina@ifyoucanreadthis and my colleague at work Aisling have been roped into this readalong too. Hope you all like it as much as I did.

Now soldiering on for the next 1,000 pages!


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


21 thoughts on “A Suitable Boy : Part 1

  1. Keep going – it gets even better 🙂

    Posted by Tony | August 23, 2012, 10:58 am
  2. I think maybe you put your finger on why I had so much trouble getting into it (and then quit). So many characters!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | August 23, 2012, 2:44 pm
  3. I am loving it so far too – at first I found it hard to keep track of all the characters and had to make extensive use of the family trees but now they feel very familiar. As for the Indian terms, I am letting them wash over me and working things out through context, I’m about 90% there with understanding them.

    Whilst I love Lata’s story, I also love reading about Meenakshi as she’s so cold hearted, I have a feeling she’s in for a hard lesson before the end of the novel. The Chatterji’s are my favourite family too. Great post, Jo!

    My Part One Review

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | August 23, 2012, 3:27 pm
    • Sam,
      Thanks Sam. I didn’t expect Meenakshi to have a hard time perhaps she will. 🙂 Yes, I refer to the family tree quite a lot too! I still don’t get some of the Indian terms but I’m the kind of person who need to see something before I really know what it is. 😉

      Posted by JoV | August 23, 2012, 7:56 pm
  4. My goodness, so many characters… has this already been made into a tv series? I’ll wait for your final review before I decide whether I’ll ever give this a try 😉 Go go go, good luck with the next 1000 pages!

    Posted by Chinoiseries | August 23, 2012, 7:00 pm
    • Chinoiseries,
      I only mention about 70% of what is listed on the family tree, there are many more who are not on the family tree! lol
      I thought it would make a good TV drama series really, I think the same. I’m surprise why it hasn’t.

      oh C’mon, join us and read together, isn’t part 1 review enough? :p What is South Asian challenge without A Suitable Boy? 🙂

      Posted by JoV | August 23, 2012, 7:42 pm
  5. Haha, I am glad you are loving this. I agree with you that there should be a glossary – I understood what the Indian words are of course, when I read the book, but I can imagine the frustration for a person out of India. There is something to long novels – they seem daunting, but if they hook you in, you don’t want it to end, right?

    Posted by SM | August 25, 2012, 7:52 am
    • Soul,
      I know but it is so rare to find a long novels that hook you in, I count myself lucky to find A Suitable Boy. 🙂 The worse could happen the other way round, a thin novel that bores you and seems to take ages to finish it. 😦

      Posted by JoV | August 26, 2012, 10:49 am
      • I agree. Do you have a long book that you can recommend that would read fast, and hook me in? I am trying to get out of a reading slump….hence.

        Posted by SM | August 26, 2012, 2:04 pm
        • Soul,
          Murakami’s 1Q84 is one. A fine balance by Rohinston Mistry may be another one but I haven’t read that yet. The problem is that rarely you will find big books that read fast. I’ll keep thinking… 🙂

          Posted by JoV | August 27, 2012, 9:41 am
  6. I’m glad that you are enjoying this. My reading of this book entered rocky terrains, thanks to life going for a toss over the last two months. But I am still on the boat, though it may be slower going. I do want to read this book.

    Posted by Athira | September 8, 2012, 9:14 pm
  7. I read A Suitable Boy in April of this year and gave it 4 stars. I learned a lot from it – but, in the end, I didn’t feel it was worth two weeks of my life.

    Posted by debbierodgers | September 10, 2012, 7:48 pm
  8. Jo – I finally finished Book 1 last night! I echo the other readers’ views that it takes a long, long time to familiarise yourself with the characters names and relationships and this was a barrier to enjoyment at first. However, once you overcome that then I found myself to be totally immersed in the book.

    It very much reminds me of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – looks like a lot of other readers have noted the parallels, too. The focus on marriage as the big set piece at the start of the book and the fact that all the characters – Mrs Rupa Mehra and the older characters in particular – constantly return to the theme of marriage and its importance. It will be really interesting to see how the book’s main female characters develop – Saeeda Bai ‘temptress’, Lata ‘the innocent’, Meenshaki ‘adulterer’… I like the fact Seth has created all these interesting, strong females with scope to really develop these characters in books 2 and 3.

    Also found the history fascinating – he really brings home how horrifying Partition must have been. I could go on and on about it – but maybe I will save my thesis til the end of volume 3 ;-p

    Posted by aisling | October 12, 2012, 11:33 am
    • Aisling!!!
      Welcome here! 😀
      I finished the book, Yes all three parts, today! just hours ago… oh Aisling you will be in for a real treat, part 2 and 3 will make you sit at the edge of your seat! I look forward to hear of your thesis. I genuinely think you are more qualified than me to write a literary review about any book. Yes the Partition has split many families apart, the ones that are left behind didn’t have an easy ride as well.

      I look forward to hear what you think about the other parts!! 😀

      Posted by JoV | October 12, 2012, 8:16 pm
  9. I’m up to page 50 and feeling very confused. I will persevere, but it is great to know that you all had similar problems. Roughly how long does it take for you to become hooked?

    Posted by farmlanebooks | December 14, 2012, 12:53 pm


  1. Pingback: August – Sept 2012 : Wrap-up « JoV's Book Pyramid - October 12, 2012

  2. Pingback: A Suitable Boy: Part 3 (Final review) « JoV's Book Pyramid - October 22, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

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The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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