Posted by: biblioglobal | February 16, 2013

Reading detours

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Published in 1993.

I’ve been taking some detours lately in my travels around the globe. For one, I took a long return-trip to India, reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. The most recent book I read described itself as a bonsai. I seem to be in the midst of a book-as-tree theme because A Suitable Boy describes itself as a banyan tree where the main trunks sprouts branches and those branches themselves take root such that the tree would still stand even if the main trunk were to die. It really is an apt description. About 400 pages into the book I counted 17 open storylines. I thought it might be fun to try to draw them out and show how they connected, but I found that that only hurt my brain. On the other hand, I had no trouble keeping track of them all if I just kept reading.

The novel may be billed as a love story, but it is also so much more.  I love the way it liberally satirizes pretty much everyone from politicians and academics to poets and religious figures.

“Dipankar, their middle brother, was a dreamer… [He] was fond of making remarks such as, ‘It is all the Void,’ at breakfast, thus casting a mystical aura over the scrambled eggs.”

The book also addresses more seriously the issues of post-independence India such as the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and how to deal with the essentially  feudal system of zamindar land owners. There is so much to love about this book. While reading it, I found myself glad that the book was so long and that there was so much more of it to enjoy. If you’re in the mood for an epic, immersive reading experience, I highly recommend it.

Yemen: The Unknown Arabia by Tim Mackintosh-SmithOn my way to India, I stopped off in Yemen: The Unknown Arabia by Tim Mackintosh-Smith. (In Britain the title was the much more interesting Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land.) I left that visit unfinished though and will have to return. A blurb on the book jacket refers to Mackintosh-Smith as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia. The blurb is telling- even though the book was published in 2000, it felt more  like it was from 1900. The author is an upper-class British white male who was able to spend decades of his life hanging out in Yemen with no apparent need to support himself, but who  seems to have no awareness of how privileged he is.

He acknowledges early in the book that it will be very male-centric, since as a foreign male he has very little opportunity to interact with women.  That’s fair enough and I appreciated the explanation. But he then proceeds to tell us that the women in Yemen are perfectly happy with their role in society and have no objection to being isolated at home! Despite the fact that he just made clear he knows nothing about it!

Yemen certainly seems like a fascinating place and I look forward to reading more about it, but I found myself too annoyed by this book to continue.



  1. Wonderful reviews. I share your likes and dislikes. Will look for Suitable Boy and avoid your Yemen author like the plague.

    • I think you in particular would find the Yemen book irritating.Though I only read a small portion of it, so I have to be fair and acknowledge that it might get improve further on.

  2. I’ve heard so many good things about A Suitable Boy. I hope to finally read it this year! I’ve found reading detours sometimes lead me to the best places…so it sucks that this particular “trip” wasn’t great for you. I’ll be curious to see what you end up picking (and sticking with) for Yemen.

    • A Suitable Boy looks daunting, but really isn’t. (At least in my opinion.)

      No idea yet what I’ll read for Yemen. It’s even possible that I will go back to this one.

  3. I’m not sure about the Yemen book. Is he trying to come across as a jerk–how would he know how and what anyone thinks if he doesn’t interact with them. I wouldn’t presume anything until I get to know people, not just one. A Suitable Boy sounds wonderful. currently I’m reading Half of a Yellow Sun and I’m loving it.

    • I don’t think he intends to be a jerk. My impression from the book is that he’s just being very very oblivious. But his willingness to draw conclusions about things he doesn’t know about makes me question the reliability of the rest of what he has to sayl

      • Huh, he’s that oblivious. now i feel like I should read it and find out more. Maybe.

  4. I enjoyed A Suitable Boy very much when it came out, and am waiting eagerly for the sequel “A Suitable Girl” (really!) out later this year.
    The Yemen book sounds awful. I see no reason to provide this author with a few extra cents by borrowing this from my library…

    • I did hear something about A Suitable Girl coming out this year. I’m intrigued, but also a little bit worried that it won’t live up to the first one.

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