The news that Vikram Seth is writing a sequel to A Suitable Boy, my favourite novel, had me reaching for another book I love: The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh.
What set me off was an interview Seth gave to The Hindu newspaper in India. The sequel, A Suitable Girl, will be set in the present, he said, and Lata, the heroine of A Suitable Boy, will be in her eighties. She was a young woman in A Suitable Boy, set in the early years of Indian independence, and the title referred to Haresh, the shoe company executive she married.
“She may be married to her husband Haresh, or she may be widowed,” said Seth about the sequel, which will be published in 2013, and is also about the Indian custom of arranged marriages. “A Suitable Girl is being sought for her grandson, who confides in her quite a bit.”
He added: ““It is going to be largely set in India, but could also involve other nations.”
That is why I was reminded of The Glass Palace, an epic novel starting with the British conquest of Burma and ending with Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Rangoon.
The book starts with the Indian Rajkumar’s arrival in Mandalay just before the British occupation in the 19th century and goes on to describe the lives of people in Burma, India and Malaya under British rule, the momentous events of the Second World War, and their aftermath.
Rajkumar is just a boy, an orphan, when he arrives in Mandalay. We see him make a fortune as a timber merchant in Rangoon, lose everything in the Second World War, and live to a ripe old age in India.
In this panoramic novel with a diverse cast of Indians, Burmese and Chinese, three characters stand out: Rajkumar; his beloved wife, Dolly, who had been a maid to the Burmese queen; and Dolly’s friend, Uma, the Indian Collector’s wife.