I remember going to the library most Saturdays with my mother who sometimes volunteered to be on library duty. It was my favourite part of the week. This library was miniscule; maybe 5 rows of books, each row about 5 meters long. I still remember the smell of those books; mostly hard cover fiction or novels and the quietness of those rows. It was my own little hide-out (okay, one of many) and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
Every year, I looked at one specific book and decided in my final year of high school I would tackle it. Before you ooze your judgement at me, let me tell you about the physical book first let alone the story. There are approximately 1400 pages making up the book. The hardcover stood out, 1 and half times the size of the other books and three times the thickness. I didn’t care (then) what the story was about and the title to be completely honest was off-putting. At the time before reading it, all I cared about was being able to say I read THAT book.
Lesson learnt: Don’t ever compete with or challenge a book. It will suck you in, spin you around, toss you across a few fires, drown you in the ocean and then once you’ve just gotten used to being treated this way, it will spit you out, leaving you wondering how many lives you used up.
That’s what happened to me. It’s been almost twenty years since my first encounter and I still remember the depth of emotions this book took me through. I remember the characters as if I had met them yesterday, I remember the pain and joy they went through, I remember the anger I felt at the injustice and the sadness when I had to say goodbye to some people.
“A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth is a story within many stories; four families lives unfolding in front of your eyes, and the backdrop of a general election in India being used. The book is reality, an account of the extremes people live in during difficult times; the decisions made that not only affect one generation but the many that follow, the epiphanies one has when they’ve hit rock bottom, the karma arriving in life earlier than expected.
A Word of Thanks at the beginning of the book highlights what is about to unfold. If there was ever a book to rip you apart and put you back together differently it would be this one.
“To these I owe a debt past telling;
My several muses, harsh and kind;
My folks, who stood my sulks and yelling,
And (in the long run) did not mind;
Dead legislators, whose orations
I’ve filched to mix my own potations;
Indeed, all those whose brains I’ve pressed,
Unmerciful, because obsessed;
My own dumb soul, which on a pittance
Survived to weave this fictive spell;
And, gentle reader, you as well,
The fountainhead of all remittance.
Buy me before good sense insists
You’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists.” – Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
It is worth every page printed on.