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Vikram Seth Biography

(1952– ), From Heaven Lake, The Humble Administrator's Garden, The Golden Gate

novel narrative entirely poet

Indian poet and novelist, born in Calcutta, educated in India and at the universities of Oxford and Stanford. His experiences as a student and traveller in China, where he researched economic demography, are chronicled in From Heaven Lake (1983). His first collection of poems, The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985), earned him a reputation as a skilled and witty poet. His reputation was greatly enhanced by the publication of his novel-in-verse, The Golden Gate (1986), a deft combination of metre and narrative in the manner of Pushkin. Set entirely in California, this multi-voiced satirical ‘novel’ wittily characterizes middle-class Californian social and sexual mores and anxieties. His second volume of poetry, All You Who Sleep Tonight (1990), was acclaimed for its bristling wit and technical virtuosity. Seth has also produced translations of classical Chinese love lyrics. Entirely different in tone and technique is Seth's second work of prose fiction, A Suitable Boy (1993), the popular success of which exceeded the considerable critical acclaim it gathered. Set in the years immediately following Partition, the novel follows the linked destinies of several families, both Hindu and Muslim, commenting through their viewpoints on the confluence of public and private histories. While the names of Tolstoy and Trollope have been invoked in Seth's praise, the novel is very much a literary artifact of the late twentieth century: careful to avoid omniscient commentary, selfconsciously unselfconscious in its appropriation of uncomplicated narrative means to achieve its ends. At its best, it also works well as a compendium of a vital and turbulent historical and cultural moment.

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