by Vikram Seth
The very first thing I have to say about this book is that it is long. Really, really long. That being said, I picked up the book from the library and figured that despite its size, I could finish it in a few days. Oh, how wrong I was. This book was beautiful from beginning to end, and I would pick up the book and read just a little, then set it down and savor what I had just read.
It really would be difficult to sum up the entire book because there were several story lines, each one interwoven with the others, and at the end, they all tied up as well. I loved that. But the story starts in India, where we meet the young woman Lata and her family. Lata is of marriageable age, and it is time to find her a suitable husband, hence the title of the book. When she first discovers love it is with a man whom her mother could never give her daughter to, and her heart is subsequently broken. Mrs. Rupa Mehra is Lata’s mother, and oh, is she a character that one minute you love, and the next minute you hate. Mrs. Mehra still mourns the loss of her husband many years ago and is intent on finding Lata a man her father would have chosen himself. She is a card, and in fact frequently makes and sends her own personal cards and notes to friends and family.
Along with the story of Lata and her family, we also get a story of government. The book takes place in a time where Pakistan has just been formed, and what remains of India is fragile. We get a rather in-depth glance at how the Indian government may very well have operated for a time through the eyes of Mahesh Kapoor and his enchanting family. Also in-twined with the government is the issue of religion. Muslims and Buddhists have been against each other, and many Muslims flee to Pakistan where they no longer feel religiously persecuted.
There are basically four main families who this story is about, and each family brings something completely different to the table. They are so intricately woven together, that it does take a while to figure out who belongs to which family. The beginning of the novel began a little slow, and when the first change of tone occurred it was bothersome to me, but after a while, I picked up on the pace and the rhythm that Vikram Seth was setting forth and I settled in. AS I mentioned before, I would read this book for a while, and then simply set it down and walk away, and reflect on what I had read- I seldom experience that with a work of fiction. It wasn’t a matter of setting the book down in disgust, it was a matter of wanting to fully digest what I had read, an intent to savor the experience. The foreshadowing was also well done. Sometimes I saw it coming, but sometimes I had to stop reading and flip back a few pages, because I certainly missed that reference before!
This book leapt right up into my favorites. I am looking forward to reading it again sometime in the future, because I imagine that while the words on the pages may not change, there may be things I will catch a second time through that I didn’t the first time. All I can say is that if you are any fan of Indian culture, this book is worth all 1500 pages and the time it will take to read them.